Motion to Take Note
To move that this House takes note of the contribution of the armed forces reserves to national security.
My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the council of the Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association, colonel commandant of the yeomanry and colonel of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry. I joined the TA in 1975 and served for 30 years, commanding my regiment in 2003-04.
In my early years the reserve forces were just recovering from the ravages of cuts by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government. A proportion was dedicated to supporting the British Army of the Rhine in the event that the Cold War suddenly warmed up, and the rest were a general reserve for home defence and other tasks. We were a genuine reserve, and it was clear to us that we were to be used only when our country’s back was to the wall. As such, we had to accept that we would tend to be issued with second-generation or third-generation equipment, most of which worked some of the time, and that payment for our time would be, shall we say, perhaps a bit more than notional. Broadly speaking that was how matters remained, with occasional minor changes, until the early 21st century, when Blair’s Labour Government had a radical rethink.
The strategic defence review determined the numbers would be substantially reduced but that what was left would no longer be a reserve but would be required to be available to be mobilised to support the regular forces on operations. In respect of the latter, in the short term not much changed at the sharp end, especially in terms of funding for training, so perhaps not everyone was fully aware of the implications. Suddenly, however, in 2003, brown envelopes started to drop through reservists’ letterboxes instructing them to report for duty in Iraq with a fortnight’s notice. This was a bit of a shock to most, particularly to wives and employers, by no means all of whom had even known they had a reservist in their midst. That was a painful period, and those of us who were in charge at the time had to manage things very sensitively to avoid risking devastating our units by wholescale mobilisation without adequate forethought, lest the bulk of those who returned from Iraq hung up their boots to enable them to rebuild shattered careers or marriages, leading to a decade-long recovery period for the unit in question.
Things were not helped when, in 2009, Gordon Brown ran out of money and removed the entire reserve training budget while we were still trying to prepare people for Afghanistan. In 2010, the reserve was suffering an increase in net outflow of those who had justifiably become disenchanted with their situation because the degraded proposition offered them was not properly met.
A decade and a half later, things are very different. In the FR20 White Paper, the Government allocated £1.8 billion of additional funding over 10 years. Most now serving have joined in the expectation of being mobilised for operations at some point in their reservist careers. Training is of a much superior quality, and the equipment is effectively the same as that of the Regular Forces. One of the most significant and important of several key improvements introduced by the Cameron Government was that on 1 October 2014, the Reserve Forces’ and cadets’ associations were given a statutory duty to report annually to Parliament on the state of the United Kingdom’s Reserve Forces. For years, the Reserve Forces, which are managed by the Regular Forces, had been pillaged for funding whenever things got tight, which they frequently do. Indeed, now is no exception, but the difference now is that there is a channel of communication direct to the Government and Parliament so that they—we—can know that it is happening. The next EST report is due to be published imminently, and I should be grateful to know from my noble friend when she expects that to be.
The concerns today are of a different order of magnitude from what they have been historically, but there are concerns none the less. The 2017 EST report, on which I shall draw, made a number of points, all important. Because of time constraints, I shall focus on just a few: first and, for me, most importantly, recruiting. As is the EST, I am extremely concerned about the viability of the recruiting partnership for Army reserves.
The process was designed to be centrally managed and, even if it worked properly, does not recognise the fact that the characteristics of the reserves—who, by their nature, are recruited locally—mean that they desperately need local resources. I say “even if it worked properly”. Frankly, it is a disaster. I am told that for five months late last year, not a single recruit emerged from the system. As a result, units have had to find workarounds to undertake functions that should have been done by the national recruiting centre.
Last year, the EST recommended a full contract review of the Army recruitment partnership. This year, it may go further. Operation Fortify introduced the initially temporary regimental sub-unit support officer. This post has made a huge positive difference in addressing the inadequacies of the central system. It has undoubtedly proved its long-term usefulness. It was at one stage suggested that this post become permanent. Indeed, if it does not, attestations are likely to decline, pipeline losses will increase and, hence, the Government’s planned manning levels will be almost impossible even to meet, let alone to maintain. Can my noble friend exercise any influence in that direction?
The Royal Auxiliary Air Force, by contrast to the Army Reserve, has already exceeded its manning targets—which, in pure numbers were of course more modest. The performance of its six new squadrons has been excellent. How was it managed to perform so well? Interestingly, apart from not being subject to the recruiting partnership for Army Reserves—lucky them—unlike in the Army Reserve, as we shall see later, work on maintaining and improving the Royal Auxiliary Air Force’s physical training estate has largely carried on. That is indicative of several things that are going better in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
Secondly, and related to recruiting, I turn to medicals. These remain the cause of the lengthiest delays in the enlistment process. Although matters have improved slightly, it is patchy and relies on proactive candidate management by units. Stories proliferate of candidates who have needlessly walked away because of overlong processing. Every unit reports a large proportion of candidates being referred for further medical examination for reasons such as non-recurring childhood ailments, emotional instability because of stress in the wake of, say, a family bereavement, or the over-rigid application of a body mass index. In too many cases, rules have been applied without adequate background knowledge or common sense. Can my noble friend give any news of improvements in that area?
There is a waiver system which can allow someone to join to join a specific and, perhaps, less physically demanding role, but it is not properly understood and is applied patchily. Unlike the Army Reserve, however, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force has been able to use it effectively to challenge initial medical screening decisions.
My third point concerns the use of the reserves. It is those reservists who are fully trained who expect to generate real capability, and it is from their use that they derive their professional satisfaction, yet frequently, their ambition to serve on operations and in other capacities is supported by cancellation on spurious grounds of cost saving. The size and shape of the reserve is now predicated on its ability to deliver complementary capability to the Regular Forces. The reserve’s relative size alone demands that it is now used proportionately. Cost is, unsurprisingly, the most frequently cited reason given by operational planners for resisting, reducing or cancelling reserve involvement in operational activity. This is particularly disturbing when the required capability and expertise is found wholly or mainly in the reserve, but the requirement is either completely dropped or absorbed into a less capable regular alternative.
The Regular Forces, meanwhile, is subject to increasing overstretch due to undermanning—the so-called saving which is taken as a contribution towards the budget imbalance. It would be logical to use the reserves to make up the shortfall in regular troops, but this is not happening. The EST strongly recommended that the MoD, Joint Forces Command and the single services review consider the terms under which reserves are included on or in support of operations and other important activity to develop protocols which make their inclusion easier.
My next point is about retention. Avoiding the loss of expensively and time-consumingly trained reservists is even more important than recruiting new ones, not least to sustainable effectiveness. Furthermore, effective recruiting depends on experienced people conducting the training, providing leadership and acting as role models. Use on operations of reserves is also key to their retention. Repetitive and boring continuation training can also quickly turn off a seasoned hand, yet the first casualty of the cuts is too often overseas training opportunities.
Reservists need access to a range of resources and training facilities not held at unit level. While some of the establishments providing the necessary facilities have embraced their reserve obligations, we still hear too often of last-minute changes and cancellations of courses. Often units are told that courses have been cancelled because of poor take-up, yet in large part the problem’s resolution was within the control of the training establishment. The very fact that the so many reserve course places are allocated so close to the course start date demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of, or sympathy for, the pressures of their civilian work on reservists.
Many training establishments are constrained by support contracts that operate only on a nine-to-five, five-day week regime, while reservists are mainly available for training at weekends. Contract owners and managers too often seem reluctant to review contracts to make courses more reserve-friendly. Also, strongly related to retention, there is considerable evidence that, when in-year savings are applied—typically caps on reserve service days or reduced availability of training areas—they tend to realise very little in the way of real savings, especially when compared with the considerable negative impact that they have on recruitment and retention of reserves.
I turn to equipment support, particularly relating to vehicles. Crucial to retention as well as to effectiveness, many army units, especially those whose role is implicitly vehicle-based, rely heavily on local provision of some of their main vehicles to complete their training. But it is the paucity of equipment support for those units that hold equipment that is of real concern. With very few exceptions, the EST judged that equipment support provision on most reserve units is “badly broken”, to use its words. There are two elements to this. First, commanding officers have now lost their independent specialist—the officer commanding the Light Aid Detachment, who could advise on and assure equipment support at first line and the quality of service being returned from third line. Secondly, most units are suffering from significant shortages of skilled civilian support, often with 75% or more gapping of civilian posts. Although the EST has raised this in at least its last two reports, there does not seem to have been much improvement.
On the reserve training estate, the deductions that the EST draws are that it remains in a sustained period of only just being kept viable in an increasingly degraded condition. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation has allowed expenditure on estates to fall by 37% over the six-year period to 2016-17. Preventive maintenance expenditure has reduced almost to zero. The reserve training estate is consequently building up what the EST calls a bow wave of annually increasing maintenance requirements, with little confidence that funding will be available to address that growing need in the near term. Because no meaningful investment is being made, alternative strategies for provision of a low-maintenance, appropriately located, fit-for-purpose reserve training estate will take a protracted period to implement.
I mentioned earlier that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force was in a considerably better situation. While things started off better, too, in the Royal Naval Reserve, budget pressure seems now to be threatening the previously ring-fenced Maritime Reserve FR20 funding, potentially including two important projects; both of them were underpinned by FR20 funding, which now appears to be earmarked to bailout measures unrelated to the reserves and, therefore, beyond that ring-fence.
Despite everything, the EST acknowledges the enormous progress that the Armed Forces have made in delivering a reshaped reserve with a new sense of self-worth and purpose. Many reserve units are well on track, not only towards meeting their manning targets but towards creating meaningful capability on which defence can rely with confidence. As the EST says, the challenge confronting the services is, first, to convert reserve numerical strength into meaningful and routinely useable capability. Secondly, it is to transition from a reserve concentrated on growth into one in a steady state—and, thirdly, to preserve the support mechanisms that a reserve ecosystem thrives on, while being much better integrated with its regular counterparts. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for securing this timely debate on such an important aspect of our military capability—a capability that continues to be of the greatest importance to our nation, not least in this time of global unrest and uncertainty, although one might be forgiven for thinking that not everyone in the Government understand this as well as they should, given today’s press reports.
More years ago than I now care to remember, I commanded an RAF squadron in what was then the Federal Republic of Germany during the final decade of the Cold War. As part of my duties, I had to be prepared to deal with the media in the event of some newsworthy event or other attracting their attention. To prepare for this unhappy eventuality, I had to undergo the appropriate training. The officer who conducted the training was, as it happens, a reservist; he commanded a small Royal Auxiliary Air Force unit that specialised in public relations and communication. In his day job, he was a highly experienced journalist, and the guidance and advice he offered were therefore grounded in an understanding of the perils and pitfalls of media engagement that no regular officer I have come across could ever have matched. His contribution to what we sought to do in Germany in those days was unique, and it was likewise invaluable.
A few years later, when I was commanding an RAF station in Norfolk, I had the privilege and pleasure of having both a Royal Auxiliary Air Force regiment squadron and a Royal Engineers Territorial Army squadron under me. If ever I felt I needed an injection of enthusiasm, I had only to go to see the men and women of those units training over the weekends. The determination and élan that they displayed as they worked hard in what should have been their time off were quite remarkable. The members of the Royal Engineers squadron, in particular, never ceased to amaze me. Their role was airfield damage repair and, as a consequence, many were experts in the handling of industrial machinery. They thus came to us from far and wide, since Norfolk is not exactly the heart of the construction industry in the UK. Despite the distances that they had to travel, there they were at the weekends, carrying out their role with enormous skill and huge enthusiasm. Some time later, I had the great privilege of being an honorary colonel of a Royal Engineers TA regiment, and the years I spent in that role brought home to me in the most convincing fashion that my experience at Marham was not in the least unusual, but rather the norm.
In the latter stages of my career, when I was Chief of the Defence Staff, I saw at first hand the outstanding performance of reservists from all three services in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was particularly struck by the fact that the regulars to whom I spoke told me that the contribution of the reservists was indistinguishable from that of their full-time counterparts. Beyond this, the reservists were at times able to use the expertise and skills of their civilian professions in all sorts of unexpected but enormously valuable ways. They were an integral and important part of the deployed force.
These and other experiences over the course of many years have led me to a number of conclusions regarding the place of reservists in our military structure. The first is that reservists are not just some kind of locum tenens for regular personnel; they make a unique contribution in their own right and are a crucial part of the force structure, not merely an optional add-on. What is that contribution? It is, in part, the expert knowledge that many reservists bring from fields of endeavour that are underrepresented, or not represented at all, within the regular part of the force. Sometimes this is delivered through their membership of specialist units, but it can also be available as a useful additional skill that is not a normal part of their military duties. But reservists bring something more than this: they bring a wish to serve, just not as regulars. They bring a wish to serve in a more limited but nevertheless important way. In a democratic society, such a wish should not be scorned; it should be encouraged, nurtured and turned to the nation’s advantage.
Outside general war, we in this country do not have an extensive tradition of citizen soldiers, but it is nevertheless an important concept. It connects the military and the society it serves and from which it springs more closely. It both embeds more deeply and widens the sense of duty, which is such an important element of responsible citizenship. For all these reasons, reservists should be seen as an important part of the force mix within our military.
My second conclusion, though, is that reservists have to feel useful. My two reserve squadrons at Marham were training to fight the Warsaw Pact, just as their regular counterparts were; they were an integral part of the team. The reservists deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan made a crucial contribution to the conduct of those campaigns. All of them knew that what they did was important, and that it was appreciated. Reserve units must not be seen as some kind of weekend social club. Reservists do not want to be treated in such a way. That kind of approach demeans them and the responsibility they show in electing to serve in the first place. So, however we organise our military, the place of reservists within the structure must be both clear and useful, and to feel useful, reservists need to be used—not just as additional bodies but in the roles and for the purposes that led them to sign on in the first place.
My final point is that the size of the reserve component should be considered in its own right, not as a way of providing a cheap and cheerful alternative to regulars. All too often the debates over force structure, usually driven by financial constraints, centre on the cost of regulars compared to reservists, versus the inadequacy of reservists as opposed to regulars. Well, reservists are not regulars, and cannot be used for roles that require regular service. As I have argued, however, reservists are important in their own right. The debate should therefore be about what reservists bring to the force mix, not about how we save money. Indeed, reservists cost money. They need to be properly trained and equipped for their operational roles. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, has highlighted some of the current shortfalls in this regard. If reservists are not properly trained and equipped, and if the Government use them merely as a fig leaf for force structure reductions to cut costs, they will not stay. The regular/reserve mix should be determined by overall capability, not by financial expediency.
Reservists are therefore important to this country in all sorts of ways. They have a remarkable history, which we should celebrate, and an important future, which we should protect. That future—indeed, the future of our Armed Forces as a whole—is at this moment in the balance. The Ministry of Defence is carrying out a review under the rather disingenuous title of “modernising defence”. It is no secret that to deliver the force structure set out at the conclusion of the 2015 defence review, the Ministry of Defence will require additional funds. But it is by no means clear that these will be forthcoming, particularly given recent statements by the Chancellor and today’s press reports. I therefore take this opportunity to remind the Minister that many of us are watching carefully to see whether the Government intend to discharge properly what is acknowledged to be their first duty to our citizens: their defence and security. If they should fail to do so, they should not expect us to sit idly by.
In this debate we are celebrating the contribution that reservists make to national security. They, and their regular comrades, can continue to make that contribution only if they are adequately funded. The Government frequently and rightly acknowledge the quality and courage of our Armed Forces. Those are fine words, but it is time to back them up with decisive action.
My Lords, I very much appreciate my noble friend allowing us to have this debate, because it is particularly important. As the noble and gallant Lord just said, this is about the nation at large, and not just about reservists.
I shall give a little history. During the war, 48,000 Royal Navy officers—nearly 80% of all its serving officers—were volunteer reservists. This is often forgotten. In earlier days reservists did not even get paid.
I have the honour of having been made an honorary vice-admiral. I am attached to HMS “President”. I go there regularly. Indeed, next week we have a gathering with a whole number of employers coming along. Most employers have a bit of a moan and groan along the lines of, “How do I handle this, what is it going to cost me and how do I replace people?” I had the honour of running P&O during and after the Falklands War. We had 100,000 people worldwide and I encouraged them to be part of the reserve. We had a very large number of reservists, not just in the Navy but in the Air Force and Army as well.
The point that has just been made is particularly interesting: there is nothing more splendid than a volunteer. Recently I was at a gathering at HMS “President” and some of the new cadet officers were there; some had been there for only a few weeks. I went over and said hello to one girl who was about 27 or 28, tall and well turned out. I asked, “How long have you been with us now?” and she said, “Six weeks”. I said, “What’s your day job?” She said, “I am a junior partner in one the major city law firms”. It was one of the top firms, as a matter of interest. I asked her why she joined us and, looking me straight in the eye, she said, “I felt it was time, sir, to put something back”. That is the best reply. What more could you ever want from anybody?
Following on from the noble Lord’s point, if you go down to the reserve units, they have been cut back in every conceivable way. They are even short of knives and forks. I asked, if they were that short, why they could not get some money. They replied that they could not get any money and were being cut further. I said to let me know and I would help out; I would whip down and buy a couple of dozen. It is becoming ludicrous how they feel they are cut back.
When you are of that age in the Army, Air Force or the Navy—which I know slightly better, I suppose—the excitement comes from being involved. One of the excitements, particularly if you are in the Army, if you are not going into battle for real, comes from an exercise. You tell your family what it will be about and then, all of a sudden, three days beforehand, it is cancelled. I do not think anybody has any feeling for what that is like, although we have all been 18 or 19 years of age.
From my own experiences, I know that many people among the reservists have very specialist jobs. For example, in the first Gulf War there were thousands of vehicles in the desert. There were a huge number of fires before the war even started and the first people called up to serve were three half-commander reservists at HMS “President” who were all burns specialists in Harley Street. They flew out because some very serious burns needed to be attended to. There were many specialists.
Interestingly enough, I was speaking to some of our young one-stripers the other day and I said, “What do you do in your day job?” Because of the jobs they all have, I suppose HMS “President” has almost the highest IQ in the armed services. But many of them do not want to do the job they do in civvy street. They want the excitement of doing something different. I can understand that. You want a change and not to do the same thing in the evening. Although comments have been made about the work being done at weekends, a large number of units also serve on weekdays.
Sadly, I believe that the big decision by the armed services or whoever to increase the number of reservists was made on the basis of bringing down the numbers at the sharp end, particularly in the Army, and expecting reservists to do the job. I say that having been somewhat intimately involved in this area. I happen to have spent a lot of time in America and can look at this through the eyes of the National Guard. Anybody in the Marine Corps would say that, however good reservists are, you cannot expect them to do the job of a trained front-line soldier. It is impossible. However, carrying out specific roles is a different matter.
There was a very good example of that during the early part of the war in Afghanistan, when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister. Noble Lords might remember that we had discussions about having no helicopters out there in any quantity. It was then announced that there would be a 60% increase in the number of helicopters. In fact, there were only about 10 extra helicopters but it always good to give the figures as percentages. In real terms, the shortage was to be found among combat pilots and combat crews. Back then, I suggested that the reserves had many highly trained helicopter pilots—indeed, we had three or four in my own company—who were carrying out flight training for hours every day across the North Sea and so on. If you have 50 combat crews trained and ready to be called up within a fortnight, that is when you can bring in people from a civilian background to do the various jobs. Nobody here would disagree about the advantage of having that type of training and brain power in cyber and other areas. In due course, a good number of scientists will become involved as well, combining their role in civvy street with a role in the armed services. One sees how it can be done.
We had a debate here the other day about floods and what would happen in flood areas, although I was too late to ask a question. I remember having a discussion about this with my noble friend Lord Attlee. We agreed that if there is a local problem, there is nobody better to ask to help than a reserve group who live locally, know the people and know where the kit can come from to deal with it. There is also an element of excitement in it for them and it is another way of them being recognised for what they do.
During a debate the other day I said that some of us would like to see inshore patrol boats stationed in various small ports to protect our shores. In that way, the populace at large would see reservists with, if necessary, reserve marines on board. They would be in uniform and people would realise that the armed services play an important role in protecting them. One difficulty that we have today is that there is very little opportunity for the populace at large to understand the role of reservists and what is behind it. That said, people are very proud of them. The marines have the highest rating in the country and all the other services have a rating in the high 90s in percentage terms, but it is quite rare to see them in action.
I shall finish by saying that it all comes back to money. I have been involved in this argument for several years. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, said, we need more money. Today, we have talked about whether we should even continue to be a tier 1 power, which I find extraordinary. Several of us have strongly advocated a 3% increase in spending, not 2%, but even that is not 2% in reality. In practice, as we start to re-emerge and take on a more global role, we will unquestionably need more capability. Sadly, I am afraid that our friends in Washington do not believe that we have this capability. They have very strong views and they do not trust that we will deliver in the longer term.
We need more money. This will come to a head, and I believe, like many of us here, that the appropriate time for us to demonstrate that we are going to do more and have more sustainability is at the NATO meeting on 11 and 12 July, at which it should be announced: “The Brits are back”.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for providing this timely debate. I was struck indeed by the words of my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup, who covered most of the more intellectual aspects of the needs of and background to the reserves. I propose to concentrate on the role and manning of the Royal Naval Reserve, which is about one-10th the size of the Army Reserve and has not succeeded so well in recruiting in recent years.
The naval reserve was formed out of a national register of seamen in 1835. On mobilisation in 1914, it already consisted of some 30,000 officers and men and was intended to provide a reserve of trained personnel drawn mainly from professional seamen and trawler-men for rapid mobilisation in times of emergency. In 1958, after the Second World War, it was amalgamated with the much larger RNVR, which was by then an officer-only reserve, as part of the post-war rationalisation of Reserve Forces. This led to the establishment of a dozen sea training centres based in 12 commercial ports around the UK, which were specifically designed, as we have heard, to keep the Royal Navy in the public eye and to provide seagoing training for volunteers, from ordinary seamen to commanding officers. These training centres were equipped with a permanent force of Ton-class mine countermeasures vessels, which were organised into the 10th Mine Countermeasures Squadron, and some smaller craft. This squadron provided training in all disciplines of naval life and career progression up to command of a small ship. In 1984, the MoD introduced a new class of 12 mine countermeasure vessels to replace the old and rather tired wooden minesweepers. These River-class vessels, not to be confused with the current batch 1 and 2 offshore patrol vessels of the same name, were withdrawn within 10 years as a result of the Options for Change review and sold abroad, mainly to Brazil and Bangladesh. At this point, the RNR lost any meaningful seagoing role, and with it the incentive to recruit for all trades and for command. Who wants to join a reserve that does not have the essential tools to train those who are interested in joining, and with no ships and no crews?
The RNR has since been reduced in size by successive defence reviews until, by 2010, it consisted of 3,600 trained personnel. The SDSR of that year sought to increase the size and role of the Reserve Forces, but recruitment difficulties and some controversy over the continuing reductions in regular strength—what exactly are the underlying reasons for reducing regular strength and increasing reserve strength?—had the effect that, by 2015, this number had fallen to 3,160. The most recent figure for 2018 is 2,750. These volunteers are seen as part of a “whole force” arrangement with the Regular Navy, of which they form roughly 10%, and are designed to facilitate movement between the two groups for training or support purposes. Again, that looks very much like using the reserves as a back-up when and where you do not have enough people in the regulars. This figure is for reservists who have completed the first two phases of their training, both basic and trade. However, the Ministry of Defence is now reporting its overall figures as 3,600, which, for the first time, includes those reservists who have completed only phase 1 training—basically a few weeks of marching around a square. A cynic could argue that this massaging of the figures does not assist the service’s cause.
Another fundamental point is that the figures for the Royal Naval Reserve include a fairly steady number of Royal Marines reservists—usually about 750. The current Royal Naval Reserve number of trained reservists is therefore only about 2,000. These volunteers are spread between a total of 18 units and subdivisions, which may seem surprising, given that it means that there is an average of only around 110 personnel at each, but it preserves the essentially local nature of the units and enables local recruitment to continue unaffected by distance. Another potential source of training, however, is the 15 university royal naval units—sometimes known as URNUs—which come under overall RNR command, although managed by the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. These operate some 14 small inshore patrol craft—exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, was suggesting—of the Archer P2000 class, and all trainees are treated as officers under training, being taught leadership, navigation, seamanship and other similar disciplines. As it stands, however, this means that there is no scope for their use for general training of reserves. Each URNU consists of some 50 undergraduates, who join for three years. The vessels were built in a steady stream between 1985 and 1998, which means that they are all at least 20 years old, and I see no indication that their replacement has been formally discussed.
At present, it seems that the Navy’s three batch 1 offshore patrol vessels—“Tyne”, “Severn” and “Mersey”—are seen as surplus to RN requirements with the arrival of their batch 2 successors. The hybrid HMS “Clyde”, currently the Falkland Islands guardship, may find a further role. The brand-new HMS “Forth”, which was commissioned earlier this year, appears to be suffering from so many faults that she has been taken back in hand by her builders for rectification work, and her crew transferred to “Tyne”, one of the older class, which has been reactivated from reserve. Being charitable, this should prove to be a temporary situation, which will leave the three older OPVs available for disposal or for future use in reinforcing our border and fishery security.
And here is where the RNR might come in, by providing crewing and incentives. Since these vessels are only 15 years old and are fairly basic patrol ships with simple systems, could the naval service not find a use for them? They require a crew of 30 men, which is well within the capability of an RNR unit to provide, and, if the Regular Navy cannot find the men to man them, this could be a useful solution to the worrying problem of border and fishery protection post Brexit. They also have the capacity to carry up to 20 troops, which would provide excellent additional trainee accommodation for RNR personnel. The Border Force has only a very small number of coastal enforcement cutters, three available at any one time, and these vessels could augment this. I envisage their use in fishery protection—they were technically part of the Fishery Protection Squadron until they were retired—and for coastal law enforcement once we leave the EU. By sharing them between RNR units, one could be based in each of the three dockyard ports, Portsmouth, Devonport and Faslane, and could be maintained partly by the RN establishment, and partly by their own pool of trained ratings.
This would provide an incentive for young volunteers to get to sea, as well as for older regular service “leavers” who could join the reserve to provide the specialist knowledge required to maintain the ships and train their successors. Such a hybrid manning system might initially lean rather heavily on the regular service, but as it gained momentum, this should give way to a steady stream of volunteer crews available and trained to assist the regular service.
At the same time, we should continue the programme of using small numbers of maritime reservists on board regular RN ships to generate more seagoing interest within the reserve, and I suggest that the Archer-class P2000 patrol boats of the URNUs should be fully integrated with RNR activities to maximise the use of these handy small vessels. This will give ample opportunity for the volunteer reservists to train in their own time, but it is important that the reserve is not seen—to echo the noble Lord, Lord Sterling—as some steady-state manpower provider to the Regular Forces. It is also important that the reserve ethos is not lost. The current shift to the “whole force” stance has inflicted a cultural change on the reserve which makes recruitment more difficult than in the past.
I request that the Minister comment on the plans for disposal of the OPVs and for manning in the future.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my entries in the register of interests. I thank the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and congratulate him on securing this debate which has come at an opportune time. The noble Lord has a proud record of service in the reserves and is an invaluable champion of them in this House.
I have two general but important points that I wish to make, along with some more detailed points. The general points affect the regular part of the Armed Forces as well as the reserves. A number of noble Lords have referred to finance for defence. Two of the most respected national newspapers in this country, the Times and the Financial Times, have this week had on page one as their main articles fears for the defence budget. The headline on page one of the Financial Times today is:
“Theresa May casts doubt on UK’s status as a ‘tier one’ military power”.
There are reports of “shockwaves” at the MoD. The view is widely held in this House—we have heard it time and again in this debate—in the other place and in the Ministry of Defence that there is a desperate need for additional funding for our Armed Forces, including the reserves. They say that you should not ask a question without knowing the answer. Unfortunately, I think I do know the answer, but nevertheless I would ask the Minister: when will we know whether the Armed Forces are to be allocated additional funding, and how much will it be?
My second general point is on recruitment. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that it is always a grave error to put the brakes on recruiting. The Armed Forces are left with a shortfall in personnel for months and perhaps years, and this takes a long time to resolve.
I have some specific points on the reserves, but as I have said, the earlier points have a direct impact upon them. I shall confine my remarks to the Royal Marines Reserve. The Royal Marines reservists make up an exceptional force of dedicated men of the highest calibre. There are approximately 750 trained ranks stationed in four United Kingdom RMR units. Around 10% of the trained reservists are drafted to the regular corps on long-term secondments at any one time. All reservists must pass selection and the rigorous commando course. Some are civilians, but many are former regular Royal Marines.
The four units and detachments are as follows: RMR Bristol with detachments at Cardiff, Lympstone near Exeter, Plymouth and Poole; RMR London with detachments at Oxford, Cambridge and Portsmouth; RMR Merseyside with detachments at Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham; and RMR Scotland with detachments at Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and from which the Belfast and Newcastle detachments are run. It is an extremely efficient and economic organisation and it is invaluable to the regular corps, not just for manpower support but also for recruiting and retention. I must stress that it is essential that the infrastructure of the Royal Marines Reserve—the buildings and other facilities used by the RMR—is preserved. Reservists cannot develop their capabilities without them.
We as a country are very fortunate that we have outstanding men like Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher, one of four Royal Marines or former Royal Marines to be awarded the George Cross in recent years, and Corporal Seth Stephens, who was posthumously awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross; he was also a Royal Marine. Noble Lords will know that the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross is just under the Victoria Cross and is a fairly recent decoration. Your actions under fire have to be of exceptional bravery. Such men come forward to serve their country, and the House will be interested to know that the wife of Corporal Croucher is called Victoria and her maiden name was Cross.
Corporal Seth Stephens, who was posthumously awarded a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, was a regular Royal Marine, as was Corporal Croucher before becoming a reservist. Corporal Stephens rejoined the regular corps, but then volunteered for Special Forces selection. An outstanding candidate, he was badged into the Special Boat Service. With the leave of the House, I will read a short excerpt from the coroner’s report into the action that ultimately lead to his death.
After more than five hours of heavy fighting, the SBS found progress extremely difficult. They fought their way through an orchard, coming under fire from all sides. On his own initiative, Corporal Stephens used a ladder to climb a nine-foot compound wall and began to fire down on to enemy positions that were attacking the men stranded in the orchard. In adopting this position, he would have been acutely aware of his own vulnerability. A SBS commando who followed him into the compound was shot and wounded by an insurgent firing over a seven-foot wall close to Corporal Stephens. The commando tried to warn him of the threat as the gunman had a clear line of sight on to Corporal Stephens. Between 15 and 30 seconds later, Corporal Stephens was shot in the back of the head in the exposed area between his helmet and body armour. Corporal Stephens made a conscious decision to move to provide more effective covering fire. He was in a very exposed position under accurate fire at increased risk to himself. That single act of selfless bravery almost certainly saved the lives of his comrades.
Corporal Croucher, to whom I referred earlier—himself a recipient of the George Cross—put his life in mortal danger to save his comrades; that is selfless bravery. I say to the Minister and the Government—I exhort them—that we cannot fail such outstandingly brave and selfless men.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, from whom we have heard much about the Royal Marines Reserve and its proud history, of which I was fairly ignorant. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord De Mauley for introducing this timely debate.
The external scrutiny team’s 2017 report is encouraging. It is to be welcomed that FR20 now looks as if it can be successfully achieved on time and on budget. However, it would perhaps have been better if we could have debated the 2018 report today. I note that the 2017 report, signed by General Brims, is dated 21 June 2017—exactly a year ago. I think it likely that the 2018 report, if it has not already been signed, must be very close to completion.
I declare an interest as an honorary air commodore of 600 (City of London) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, a position I am honoured to have held for the past 12 years. The report notes that among the three services, the RAF Reserve alone has already achieved its manning and trained strength targets, according to the set timescale. The 600 Squadron has 170 people; that number is rising. They are in good shape and represent a wide variety of different trades. At any one time, a number of them are deployed at home and overseas. As part of the RAF’s 100th anniversary celebrations, I have had the opportunity to visit many Royal Air Force establishments. I almost always find members of my squadron deployed to the squadron or station I visit.
While I cannot claim any experience of the Royal Naval Reserve, it has been well covered by my noble friend Lord Sterling and the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery. I also have 10 years’ experience in the TA, or Army Reserve as we call it now, in both the Cambridge University OTC, through which I obtained my commission, and 4th Battalion the Royal Green Jackets, now 7th Battalion the Rifles.
The degree of adaptation necessary for the RAF reserves to fit into the new whole force concept is less than is the case with the Army Reserve. The reasons for this are several. Whereas the normal means by which personnel discharge their obligation to give two weeks’ continuous service a year is different—in the Army Reserve many units still deploy as a unit to annual camp—RAF reservists typically spend the two weeks backfilling regular units at home and abroad. I therefore think that the dividing line between regulars and reservists is less obvious in the RAF than in the Army. The Navy is also closer to the RAF in this regard. Of course, the Army, in terms of the relative weight in numbers of reservists to regulars, is much more dependent on reserves, which form more than a quarter of target strength, whereas in the other two services it is 10%.
As my noble friend Lord De Mauley and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, have explained, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force is in very good shape, and new or restored squadrons based at St Mawgan in Cornwall, Aldergrove in Northern Ireland and Woodvale in Lancashire have improved the geographical coverage of the service. As far as the Royal Air Force is concerned, the development of the whole-force concept is proceeding well. The acceptance of reservist personnel by their regular counterparts has taken root, at least to some extent. The whole force concept assumes an output of trained strength based on a combination of regulars together with full-time and part-time reservists, in addition to outsourced civilian organisations, many of whose personnel are former servicemen and servicewomen.
For this concept to reach its full potential, it is necessary for commanders to have the flexibility and mindset to use the reserves quickly at short notice, without the need to legislate prior to mobilisation. For example, 4624 Squadron was engaged on a training weekend at Brize Norton when Hurricane Irma struck last September. Some personnel were able to be mobilised immediately and deployed with regulars to the Caribbean. A further opportunity to test how easily reserve forces might be deployed will be provided by Exercise Saif Sareea, to take place in the Gulf this coming October.
I ask the Minister: are there plans to make the annual training commitments for reservists more flexible? For example, RAF part-time reservists are required to undergo 27 days’ training a year, of which 15 days should be continuous. This rule was set in 1909 for reservist rifleman, but it is no longer appropriate, particularly for Royal Auxiliary Air Force personnel. Most exercises undertaken by regular formations do not last two weeks and many are shorter than one, so there are not many opportunities to join a two-week exercise. Would it not be better to remove the requirement for reservists to do periods of continuous training and allow them to do more periods of shorter duration? One size no longer fits all.
Speaking for 600 Squadron, I understand that we engage well with some employers, particularly large companies, but less well with SMEs, which are of course less able and less willing to lose their scarce human resources for military training. Many of them are unfortunately still slow to recognise the improvement in output that their reservist employees will deliver to their companies. Will the Government consider providing tax benefits to companies that employ reservists, or at least setting up a compensation scheme to mitigate their loss of output during periods when their employees are engaged in annual training or deployed for longer periods?
I strongly endorse what my noble friend Lord De Mauley said, particularly about the tightness of funding. The Government have committed to spend 2% of GDP on defence, but I understand that the costs of the intelligence service are now included in that, as are pension costs, so we actually spend only around 1.6% of GDP according to the old method of counting. Perhaps in the new, more uncertain and unpredictable world that we inhabit today, 3% would be a more appropriate share of GDP to commit to defence, remembering that keeping the country safe and free is the Government’s first duty.
I want also to thank the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for initiating this timely debate. I declare my interest in the register as an honorary captain in the Royal Naval Reserve, and perhaps also as a former Lord Mayor; the City, of course, is very close to the reserves and the cadets. London is particularly strongly represented among the reserves. Like the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, I am affiliated to HMS “President”, the largest RNR unit in the country.
I want to salute a success story—we have heard about some of the problems, but there is a considerable story of success to be told with our reserves. Right across the spectrum of the three services, reserves contribute in war fighting, defence engagement and, importantly, from time to time in homeland defence. Reserves are part of the forces by design, part of the capability. It is not all a matter of how many are mobilised, as it was at one time. Under the RSD—the reserve service day—payment structure, a daily rate for international training or otherwise across the globe is in place and seems to work well. Some capabilities and specialisations are now reserved almost exclusively for the reserves by design. The reserves used to be a last resort; they are now part of the capability when properly structured.
We are approaching the end of the period addressed under the Future Reserves 2020 report of 2011. This should end in 2021, but I think that the end is generally regarded as March 2019, as outlined by the then Minister Brazier. The thrust of the review was addressing the fall in the number of reserves. It was heavy on numbers and allocated, as we have heard, £1.8 billion over 10 years. The premise was that the reserves had been underfunded and were thus in decline. However, this verdict did not fit with the experience of other nations. Foreigners were getting more out of their reservists; we in the UK were overreliant, perhaps, on the regulars for everything.
We are now approaching the end of that period. Broadly, the aims of Future Reserves 2020, or FR20, have been or will be achieved. In the context of national security, having dealt with the decline in reserve numbers and broadly achieved the trained strength of FR20, what is the next goal? This seems to have been left to the individual services. How do we achieve more horsepower from the reservist cylinder block? Given that we have broadly achieved FR2020, how do we now maximise the output?
Today we have some of our reserve operations in what must be called a traditional role in terms of numbers, but there are elements, such as cyber reserves and intelligence analysts, who are delivering operational capability without being mobilised or deployed overseas, for example. As noble Lords speaking before me have all, I think, noted, funding is the issue going forward. A Government—any Government—who neglect our defence will receive history’s censure; we should be in no doubt about that. I support the call of the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, and other noble Lords for 3% of national income to go to defence.
I thank employers for their vital support. The employer recognition scheme, with gold and silver levels and the involvement, for example, of Prince William and Prince Harry, has been very successful. The Armed Forces covenant has been a big success: I think around 25 firms a week are now signing up to the idea that we should not disadvantage those who have served. Firms benefit because reservists gain soft skills, such as leadership, a can-do attitude, responsibility and reliability, but also hard skills of value to the economy and to their businesses: planning, logistics and industrial and other skills which can be as simple as driving.
Not only are we very fortunate in this country in the professionalism and excellence of our regulars, we also have exceptional and dedicated reservists. I am echoing the words first uttered by my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup. I have experience of them in my affiliated ship, “HMS Westminster” and, echoing the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, I have had the privilege of experiencing something of the Arctic winter training of the Royal Marines and the Royal Marine Reserves. It was indeed hard, frankly, to tell the reserves from the regulars on occasions. These are fantastic people. We are so fortunate that these exceptional volunteers want to serve and contribute. As Lord Mayor, I saw the high level of support received from employers resulting from FR2020 and the Armed Forces covenant.
I might add, in concluding, that the Lord Mayor’s show simply could not happen without the highly professional contribution of the reserves. Some 400,000 people line the streets of the City and more than 1.8 million view this on television, including a worldwide audience. It is the BBC’s longest-running outdoor broadcast. Noble Lords may say that this is not defence, but it is an excellent example of the marketing of Brand UK. This means employment and it means taxes. We see the contribution of the reserves in so many areas, contributing to employment and taxes—taxes that pay for our defence.
My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord De Mauley for introducing this debate and I agree with everything that noble Lords have said so far. My noble friend performed his task in a far more skilful way than I did many years ago. I want to start my contribution by stating that I do not really know what I am talking about. This may surprise noble Lords, but to an extent it is true.
When I came to your Lordships’ House in about 1992 I was in the middle of my TA career. I had already spent 18 years in the ranks and by 1998 I was a major commanding a REME recovery company which has since been disbanded. For most of the 1980s I was involved with first line support in the REME, supporting a Royal Logistic Transport Squadron, and I understand exactly what my noble friend Lord De Mauley was talking about in terms of first line support. I also knew a lot about army life at unit level, both in the regulars and in the volunteer reserves, and I believe that I added value to your Lordships’ debates. I have not visited an Army unit, regular or reserve, in the field for at least 12 years, so to that extent I am out of touch. In fact, apart from my own regiment I do not think I have visited a land-based military unit for many years—10 years plus. The good news is that I understand quite a lot about defence at the strategic level so I think I can still add value. However, I think we should look closely at how our Lords system of allowances works because there is no incentive to visit a reserve unit on a weekend exercise but every incentive to pop in for Question Time on a Thursday morning. Similarly, I really ought to visit BAE Systems in Barrow and on the Clyde but, again, the current system of travel and other allowances strongly discourages this.
In introducing this debate, my noble friend Lord De Mauley painted a somewhat encouraging picture. As an honorary colonel, he will be very well informed. But I detect some worrying trends. The first concerns the willingness to take a calculated risk and for Ministers to accept that in a very large organisation, mistakes will be made when the risk calculation proves to be wrong. As I have already indicated, I served a long time in the reserves but bad accidents of any sort were very rare, even though we took numerous calculated risks. For instance, in 1980 I was allowed to operate a heavy recovery vehicle even though I had received no formal training as a recovery mechanic. At the time I was a qualified Army driving instructor and the senior NCOs had correctly assessed that I was able to operate the equipment safely. In short, it was a reasonable risk to take. Nowadays that would absolutely never happen and no doubt my noble friend the Minister will express pride that that is the case. But the calculated risk taken by my superiors meant that I was highly motivated and attached great importance to going on TA exercises because it was seriously good fun and rewarding. In 2003, 23 years later, defence was still reaping the benefits of taking that reasonable risk in 1980. In those days, it was all about what you could do rather than what you could not. I am sorry to say that I regularly detect commanding officers being extremely risk-averse with regard to bureaucracy and regulation in order to protect their careers, and who can blame them?
My second worry is as follows. SDSR 2015 indicates that we need to be able to deploy at large scale—that is, a division—against a peer opponent. The notice to move at that scale of effort is 180 days, which I believe is far too long given the risk of unexpected events. Our opponents and allies have to believe that we have the capability to deploy at this scale so that we can maintain strategic clout. I agree with noble Lords that it is extremely disappointing that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has indicated that she thinks we do not need to be a tier 1 power; we will need to look at this very closely in the future. At home, politicians and Ministers need to be confident that we have the capability that we set out in 2015. In my view, the best way of achieving the desired state is to actually deploy at this scale of effort on exercise, at divisional strength and out of area. It may be more economical to demonstrate that the capability we have actually works, rather than to fund an increase in theoretical capability but never know if it actually has any benefit.
The main challenge of deploying at large or even medium scale is the logistics—what is called combat service support or CSS. To move a division from the seaport of disembarkation to the area of operations, which could be 500 kilometres away, is a huge logistical challenge and very few nations can do it. In fact, you need a logistics brigade of around 3,000 personnel to do it. Much of this capacity should come from the reserves, since the skills and capabilities required suit reservists and the capacity is not required much in peacetime. The regiments most involved are the Royal Engineers, the Royal Military Police, the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers—my own regiment—and, of course, the Royal Logistic Corps. Will the Minister write to me stating, including caveats and time constraints, whether we have the CSS capacity to move a division that includes at least one armoured regiment and at least one armoured infantry regiment with appropriate combat support 500 kilometres from the SPOD to the AO? If I am not confident that we have the capability to do so, why should a peer opponent or, just as importantly, an ally, be confident? We must demonstrate and test our capability.
My noble friend Lord De Mauley mentioned overseas training exercises. In the 1980s, in my experience, very few TA soldiers would leave once we had been warned of a BAOR exercise. The Minister may pray in aid Exercise Saif Sareea, but she will know that that was not even a brigade-strength, medium-scale deployment. It was a small deployment involving nothing like the effort required for a divisional deployment.
The final worry concerns the reserve manpower statistics, which were touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery. As I understand it, a reservist is classified as trained if he or she has passed their recruits course but not necessarily their initial trade course. I have to tell the House that this is very dangerous indeed and will tempt Ministers into a fool’s paradise. A regular service person will spend around 16 weeks on their phase 1 training alone, but there are only two weeks available for reservists’ phase 1 training because of the availability of the reservist and the cost. In terms of breadth and depth of training, there is simply no comparison between regular and reservist phase 1 training. Yes, of course, a phase 1 trained reservist could do something useful during a civil emergency, provided that it did not involve maintaining order or exercising force, but I have to be blunt and state to the House that phase 1 reservists on a medium or large-scale deployment are a danger to themselves as well as their comrades. Too much would be expected of them, especially when dealing with difficult situations that can arise at any time.
In my opinion, for an Army reservist to be safe, efficient and effective on an overseas deployment exercise or operation, as an absolute minimum they will need to have attended a phase 1 recruits course, a two-week trade course, a two-week annual camp with their unit and numerous weekend exercises. Even then, they will still be limited compared to a phase 1 trained regular soldier. The problem is that there is a constraint on the amount of training that can be offered to a recruit, so there is little chance of a reservist being genuinely deployable in less than three years. Therefore, my next helpful question to the Minister is: how many Army reservists have attended at least three two-week periods of continuous in-camp training as well as a commensurate number of out-of-camp training days? How much training do I believe is necessary for an Army reservist to be really effective and as useful as a regular? In my opinion, they need to be double camping—the annual camp and a trade course—and doing numerous out-of-camp training days, adding up to around 50 a year. If you want reservists to be immediately deployable, you need to be training them 50 days a year. That is my experience over many years in the TA.
Many noble Lords have said that we need more resource for defence. In my opinion, if we do not go to at least 2.5%, we will get our posterior kicked hard, and we will deserve it. I am even more depressed that the Prime Minister has indicated that we do not need to be a tier 1 military power.
My Lords, like all contributors to this debate, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for bringing this important issue this afternoon.
Much of this debate has focused on the issues of recruitment and training, and perhaps we have not spent as much time as might have been desirable focusing on the actual contribution that the reserves make. Obviously there were a few notable exceptions, particularly the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and my noble friend Lord Burnett talked about some practical examples where the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Marines Reserve have made particular contributions.
Almost everyone speaking today has a particular interest to declare in terms of having served in the reserves or the regular military. I stand here slightly as an impostor because I may be the only speaker—although I suspect this may be true of the Minister also—who is not ex-military. I have some experience, not of going out to see the reserves on a Saturday morning, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, talked about, but of doing the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme for almost three years. So I have a bit of a sense of some of the issues, and that occasionally includes talking to reserves. I am also part of the committee on military education for the east of England, and here the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, talked about the university royal naval units brings in a link between the university and OTC aspects and the reserve units. I thought I would mention that not quite as an interest but to express a point that I want to come back to.
We have heard about a lot of issues regarding recruitment, and the Urgent Question that was repeated immediately before this debate mentioned Capita. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, mentioned the difficulties of recruitment and the fact that at some point last year a whole five months went by when there did not appear to be anyone coming through the pipeline. Can the Minister tell us what progress has been made in improving reserve recruitment, not just in ensuring that appropriate information is given to people who wish to join the reserves but, in particular, in how the medicals are dealt with?
There are particular problems about the medicals that are delivered for reserves—and this is where I bring in the universities as well. If you apply to be part of the OTC, your university royal naval unit or your university air squadron, you are faced with a medical where you are expected to meet the same standards as if you were going to join the Royal Marines as a regular. There may be some questions about whether that is appropriate, but even if those standards should be maintained, whether you are going to be in a university unit or a reserve or a full-time regular, there are a set of issues that are rather different for reserves and for university OTCs. Capita has been told, “These are the standards”, and that no flexibility or discretion is ever used. If you are joining the regulars, you will have a medical with an Army, Navy or Air Force medic. If you are trying to join the reserves, you may go to your own doctor but you may be sent to a Capita doctor. If you say, “Yes, I had a Ventolin inhaler when I was a child”, that automatically leads them to say, “You can’t join the services”. You may be able to put in for an appeal, but that can take months.
If you are joining as a reserve, are you going to keep coming back to do the medicals again? That is not efficient or conducive to ensuring that people who think they want to be reserves really feel that the military is taking them seriously. That is not the fault of the military; it is the fault of the recruitment process, and it may be an issue to do with the contract. I ask the Minister to tell the House whether the contract has recently been looked at, what questions Capita is told to ask and whether they could be reviewed.
That would also fit with the fact that reserves, in particular, may be doing specified jobs, as noble Lords have mentioned. That may mean not needing to be deployed in the field to Iraq or Afghanistan in the way that we would expect regulars to do. They may have particular activities for which they are responsible. Do they necessarily need to meet the same standards of health on attempting to join the reserves as an 18 year-old joining the military full-time for the first time?
If we have sought to increase the recruitment of reserves, it would be helpful if the Minister could tell the House, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, suggested, what percentage of new reserves are fully trained beyond phase 1. At the moment, there is a real danger that the Government will say, “We have recruited 90% of our 2019 target, so everything is fine”, but if many of them are only phase 1 trained, will they actually be deployable? The House of Lords Library briefing reminds us that the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, Nia Griffith, suggested that that was artificially inflating the recruitment figures, to which the response was that the,
“figures now more accurately represent the reality on the ground, following a decision to allow for phase 1 trained personnel to be more widely deployed, such as in response to natural disasters”.
That might be fine if it did not also seem to be the case that the reserves are supposed to be filling a gap when full-time regulars are being reduced. Are the Government trying to square a circle that is not squarable? Are they trying to say, on the one hand, that reserves will maintain the numbers of our Armed Forces but, at the same time, they do not need to be trained to the same level? Is that not a real danger to the security of our country? What are the Government expecting from the reserves, how far do they really believe in a whole force understanding of the military and how are they delivering it?
There has been a lot of talk of training and retention and the two things going together. If you are in the reserves, you may want to be deployed, but you also want meaningful training. Can the Minister say whether the provisions in place for the reserves are adequate and whether they have been reviewed recently? We have heard the slightly different things from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, about the expectations. The noble Viscount suggested that the requirements for Air Force Auxiliary training were essentially too long and related to requirements for 100 years ago. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, seemed to suggest that the Army Reserve needs rather more training. Has any of this been looked at?
My noble friend Lord Trenchard is actually quite right. I am talking about initial training. When you start your military career, your reservist career, you need to do a longer period of training, but when you are more experienced and doing different roles, you might not need to do the continuous training.
I am most grateful to the noble Earl for that clarification.
I conclude, following the call by my noble friend Lord Burnett and various other noble Lords, with the hope that there is no truth in the Financial Times article this morning that somehow the Prime Minister is asking the Secretary of State to think again about whether the United Kingdom should be a tier 1 country. I hope that the Minister can reassert that the Government understand that their primary duty is the security of the realm.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for introducing this debate. Much of what he said I agree with. There has been little disagreement between noble Lords on these issues.
I suppose I ought to declare my own reserve credentials, although they are from so long ago that I had almost forgotten them. In 1963, for two and a half years, I was in the University Air Squadron, where I rose to the dizzy rank of acting pilot officer—a rank so junior that the RAF has since abandoned it. This was in the heyday of the Cold War. In today’s money, I believe that the RAF spent at least £50,000 training me to be a pilot and introducing me to the traditions of the Royal Air Force, which changed my life so much. I certainly would not be here today without that experience. It probably also saved me from a criminal prosecution, because who wants to be a hooligan when Her Majesty gives you an aeroplane to be a hooligan in?
I have no recent experience of the reserve and, therefore, like all hack politicians, which I suppose I must now accept I am, I reverted to Google. I found an organisation that at first sight sounded rather tame—the Council of Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Associations, of which the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, is president. As I went into its role, however, I found that an entirely inaccurate assessment. Among other things, it has a statutory obligation to report on the health of the reserves. It does that with an external scrutiny team, to which the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, referred, which is a pretty heavyweight team. It consists of a chairman who is a former three-star general. There are five members—one two-star, one one-star, a captain, a colonel and a civilian—and a two-star clerk. Of course, all the service personnel are retired officers. It reports annually—however, to some extent, not that you would notice.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, suggested that we should be discussing the 2018 and not the 2017 report, and I have a lot of sympathy with him. But what happened to the 2017 report, you may ask? Certainly, I did once I started my Googling. After some effort, I discovered that the Secretary of State responded to it some six months later. The report was dated 21 June, and he responded some six months later, on 19 December. If noble Lords are curious as to why they have never heard of this response, it is largely because the Ministry of Defence failed to issue it. Technically, it has been published today in a Written Ministerial Statement, dated 21 June, which means that it is exactly one year after it was presented to the Secretary of State. It is a pretty poor performance, taking six months to publish a letter. I have always believed in the cock-up and not the conspiracy theory of history, and I am sure that this was a cock-up. As an ex-bureaucrat, I always sympathise with cock-ups, but it would have been nice to have an apology. In fact, we almost got a cover-up—not of Nixonian proportions, I have to admit—in that the WMS carefully avoids mentioning the date of the letter it publishes. I hope the MoD thinks of offering some sort of apology.
The response was bland. Indeed, of all the recommendations, I do not think there is a single one where the Secretary of State agrees to do something new or different as a result of the report. It was Panglossian in nature.
The report itself is an excellent document and much more balanced. It is, in a sense, quite positive, comparing where the reserves are now with two or three years ago, when the new reserve force 2020 programme was launched, but it leaves me with a number of concerns. I will confine my remarks to the Army, because it seems both larger and to have more problems than the Royal Air Force reserves or Royal Navy reserves, which the report is genuinely fairly positive about. The first area that comes to mind is the absolute shambles of reserve recruitment in the Army—the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, touched on this. The Capita performance was dreadful. This came to the attention of the external scrutiny team, which repeated its view that this should be fully reviewed again; it is likely to repeat that even more strongly this year. The situation was saved by the Army itself, which devoted considerable local resources to recruiting. Because it was doing Capita’s job for it in the local area, the numbers in the Army reserve, with a little cheating on the side—quite significant cheating, really—have roughly reached the target of 30,000. The cheating consists of labelling anybody who has completed phase 1 training a member of the trained reserve. As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has brought out—much more richly than I could—the difference between the phase 1 reserve basic training and even the old definition of phase 2 training, where they have been trained in trade, is quite significant. The relabelling, incidentally, probably caused a bounce in the numbers of about 1,500.
My second concern regarding recruitment is over the whole concept of effectiveness. The report puts a question mark over the whole training and involvement of reserves. The central issue here is how we measure the effectiveness of these reserves, because there is almost a sleight-of-hand concept whereby you have lost 20,000 trained soldiers but you have 30,000 reserves, and it will be all right. How many reserves are needed to make up a fully trained soldier? That must surely be a question that we have to address to know whether replacing full-time soldiers with reserves is valid. On replacement in the specialist trades, it is very clear—overly clear—that only by taking people who are doing specialist day jobs in their day-to-day life do you get that effectiveness. When it comes to combat roles, I am sure we simply must not think in terms of one for one.
Another area that has been mentioned is development. The report particularly brings out the problem of developing an effective officer cadre but the emphasis is on the need for involvement in real operations—I think the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, touched on this; the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, certainly did—and a requirement for continuity of training, to keep up both the skills and morale of the individuals.
I move on to retention and duration. Military people are very expensive, because they do not really do anything. They do in civil emergencies, but most of the time we are training them to be capable. Therefore, if we do not have the military personnel capable for a reasonable period, the expense of training them to be capable is enormous. Retention is therefore crucial to get this in-depth training, development and good value for money. How do you get retention? People need to feel capable and wanted, and to feel that they are being used well.
Finally, on money, in Future Reserves 2020—FR20—£1.88 billion of ring-fenced money was allotted. That has created the improvement found in the report, but that money will soon run out. The reserves’ needs will have to be set against other challenges in defence—to paraphrase the Secretary of State’s response—and, frankly, that is code for cuts. The Armed Forces have worked hard to make our reserves more effective. I hope the Government will not let this slip away.
My Lords, I must first declare, to what I am sure will be your Lordships’ universal disappointment, that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, I have absolutely no connection with the Reserve Forces, and I feel much diminished at having to admit that deficiency. However, perhaps that enables me to look at this totally objectively and to say explicitly how much I admire exactly what the Reserve Forces contribute to our national security and interest.
I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord De Mauley for giving the House the opportunity to discuss our Reserve Forces’ significant contribution to our national security. Their role is much valued; I pay tribute to all our reservists and thank them for what they do. I also pay tribute to my noble friend’s long-standing and distinguished involvement with the Reserve Forces. He is the president of the Council of the Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Associations, and I acknowledge the vital role they play in delivering the external scrutiny team, the next report of which I expect will be laid before Parliament prior to the Summer Recess. I believe it is well advanced; your Lordships will understand that the publication is not within the Government’s control.
May I ask the Minister a simple question? I have every confidence that the people of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, will deliver on time, but will the Secretary of State do better than taking six months to respond?
I noted the noble Lord’s reference to the letter, and I was going to deal with that later on. However, I can deal with it specifically now. There was a delay, for which the department clearly apologises. I understand that at the time the report was laid before the House, a Written Ministerial Statement and a short response were issued; only the longer response was delayed. None the less, it was an administrative error and the Ministry of Defence apologises for that oversight.
As my noble friend Lord De Mauley well knows, reservists contribute their commitment and expertise to the defence and security of this country, and it is important to acknowledge that. He observed that the reserves are fundamental to the whole force. They provide generalists and specialists in everything from cyber and communications to logistics, giving us the flexibility and capability to scale up our response in times of crisis. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, appositely captured the flavour of that contribution when he referred to his having received an “injection of enthusiasm” from the reservists with whom he has engaged. He also talked about them being a crucial part of the force structure, and I agree. Indeed, the dangers to which they are exposed were described movingly by the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, when he referred to the selfless courage of Corporal Stephens. We should feel humbled by such sacrifice and bravery, and we all pay tribute to that.
Many points have been raised, and I will try to deal with them as best I can. The revitalisation of the Reserve Forces under the future reserves programme has been critical to our ability to deliver defence on a sustainable financial basis. Over the life of the programme the Government will be investing £240 million in Reserve Force training and £207 million in equipment. This will help to ensure that the Armed Forces are structured and resourced to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, referred to the modernising defence programme. We are on track to share headline conclusions of the programme by the NATO summit in July. These will set out our overall approach and how it needs to evolve and what we regard as the highest priority areas for investment. These conclusions will not include detailed issues on the capabilities and numbers comprising the joint force, but will be an indication of where we see the future going.
A number of contributors raised the general question of budget. The UK is one of very few allies to meet both the NATO spending guideline of 2% of GDP on defence and spending 20% of our annual defence expenditure on major equipment. The budget will rise by 0.5% above inflation every year of this Parliament. I also point out that the UK calculates its defence spending in accordance with NATO’s guidelines, and NATO’s own figures show that we spend over 2% of GDP on defence. The Government are categorically committed to retaining the UK’s position as a tier 1 defence nation.
On the contributions of the reserves, there have been more than 16,000 separate mobilisations in the last 10 years, including more than 500 in the last financial year alone. The reserves have proved invaluable to support the achievement of defence objectives alongside their regular counterparts. While it is true the number of reservists deploying on operations has decreased in recent times, that is an inevitable result of our changing international commitments, and the reduction in reservist deployments is proportionate to that in regular deployments.
As many of your Lordships will be aware, reservists are currently supporting UK operations in various locations abroad, engaged in counterterrorism and counterpiracy operations and on operations to counter the threat of Daesh. They also bring key specialist skills to the whole force. They are the backbone of Defence Medical Services, both in clinical provision and in manning specific clinical employment groups. My noble friend Lord Sterling of Plaistow raised this very specific aspect. Reserve work groups also provide unique national engineering infrastructure expertise used at home and abroad by defence and government more widely. Specialist reserve squadrons provide in-house IT software and hardware expertise at a level available only from highly paid civilian practitioners. Importantly in this modern and challenging world, we are also growing the number of dedicated cyber experts to deliver cyber operations.
Our reservists have also made an enormous contribution to non-military operations. Most notably following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower—the anniversary of which we marked just last week—the Army deployed military assessment teams to advise on structural safety, the removal of debris, and the water supply. In reply to my noble friend Lord Sterling of Plaistow, Operation Boomster, the Ministry of Defence’s response to the severe weather in March this year, saw Army reservists from the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry deployed to enable the movement of NHS staff and other essential civilian responders. Operation Temperer saw reservist personnel deployed following the bombing at the Manchester Arena in May 2017 and reservists continue to be deployed on Operation Morlop, the operational response to the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, raised the important matter of how we use our reservists. We are exploring how we can better use them across a broad spectrum of defence tasks. To support this, we remain committed to giving them the physical infrastructure they need to train effectively. To that end, last year we made available an additional £4.8 million.
My noble friend Lord De Mauley raised the issue of the training estate. I believe that the Royal Navy projects to which he referred are Project Cardiff and Project Solent. Funding for Project Cardiff has not been altered at all. It is proceeding on schedule and is due to complete in the final quarter of 2019. However, Project Solent is yet to be initiated.
My noble friend averred that the Regular Forces are becoming too small and that the subsequent pressures on the reserves are unsustainable. However, 12,360 recruits joined the regular Armed Forces in the year to April. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, raised the matter of the Government’s commitment to the Armed Forces, as did the noble Lord, Lord Burnett. We are committed to maintaining the overall size of the Armed Forces. The services are meeting all their current commitments, keeping the country and its interests safe, and are active in 25 operations in 30 countries throughout the world.
Another issue to be raised by a number of contributors, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, was recruitment. The number of trained volunteer reservists has grown from around 22,000 to well over 32,000 since the beginning of the future reserves programme, and it continues to grow. The number of reservists employed on a full-time basis has also increased by nearly 60% in the last four years alone, demonstrating the value that we place in the skills of our reservists and our commitment to ensuring that those who wish to make an additional contribution are able to do so.
I share the frustration of a number of your Lordships about the introduction of the new defence recruiting system. This has been a major undertaking and I think that noble Lords will understand that, although there will inevitably be problems with such a large IT system, it is replacing a 20 year-old process. I hope that there is a recognition that the new system is starting to deliver a quicker and easier recruitment process for applicants. In the 2017-18 financial year, the Army alone, despite these challenges, recruited over 9,000 service personnel. The Government recognise that there remain challenges to overcome with the new system. We have developed an improvement plan and are working with Capita to deliver it. I say to my noble friend Lord De Mauley and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that we do not feel it necessary to review the current contract.
A number of your Lordships, including my noble friend Lord De Mauley and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised concerns about the medicals process. It is right to note that it is the lengthiest stage of the recruitment timeline. However, earlier this month the Chief of Defence People and the Surgeon-General jointly chaired a medical symposium looking at medical entry standards and their application. In the meantime, the services are considering a range of measures of their own to provide solutions in the shorter term.
Questions were raised about other challenges. The Government’s full commitment to our Reserve Forces extends to training, which is frequently delivered at weekends and during evenings to fit around civilian employment. Reservists also continue to benefit from a range of overseas training opportunities, the number of which will rise this year. As my noble friend Lord De Mauley noted, this is one of the key drivers for people wishing to join the reserves. I think that my noble friend Lord Attlee also referred to that.
This Government recognise that the impact of defence operations on service personnel is wide ranging, and we have invested heavily in the delivery of more effective post-operational stress management for service personnel. Indeed, reservists benefit from the same level of support in this area as their regular counterparts. This effort is underpinned by the veterans and reserves mental health programme, which provides assessment and treatment for reservists who have been deployed overseas.
I shall try to deal with a number of specific contributions. My noble friends Lord De Mauley and Lord Sterling of Plaistow spoke about equipment and equipment support for Army Reserve units. The Army Reserve is considered in the fielding of all new equipment. For example, the Army Reserves development programme has funded a number of Virtus body armour sets to be issued to reserve units to enhance their training opportunities and experience. As the Army continues to modernise, the equipment support to the reserves will do so in sync.
The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, expressed a particular interest in the matter of offshore patrol vessels. The Royal Navy is in the process of introducing five new, more capable offshore patrol vessels intended to replace the original four deployed in the UK and the Falkland Islands. As part of the review of the requirement to support maritime security and fisheries protection post Brexit, we are considering how the Batch 1 offshore patrol vessels might contribute. They are currently being placed in extended readiness while this work concludes.
The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard talked about trying to understand the needs of employers. We understand that they have unique needs and face real challenges in a tough economic climate, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises. We are working together to make things easier for them so that they know who the reservists are and can plan ahead for training and mobilisations. Should either my noble friend or the noble Lord want specific information about the employer awards system, I shall endeavour to write to them with that.
My noble friend Lord Attlee asked some interesting questions, to which I have to say I do not have the answers. He asked specifically about logistics and the capacity to move detachments. He also raised the issue of the training that reservists attend over the period of a year. I shall endeavour to get more specific information and pledge to write to him on that, and I will place a copy of that letter in the Library.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked how we deal with phase 2 and quantify who has been doing what. It is my understanding that only the Army includes service personnel who have not completed phase 2 training in its strength. I can write to her with the specific percentage, as she requested. Reservists are vital to the whole force and we will continue to invest in the reserves and to utilise them in operations at home and abroad.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, raised the issue of the letter, which I have dealt with. He also said, if I understood it correctly, that he suspected a duplication of numbers in the phase 1 and phase 2 computation. Let me try to make it clearer. The nature of Army services is that soldiers can be used quite readily across a multitude of different military tasks at the conclusion of phase 1 training. However, the increased specialism of most naval and Air Force reservists means that this is generally not possible. That is why reservists in those services do not count towards trained strength until they have completed phase 2 training. To reassure the noble Lord, we do not in any way double count reservists, and the noble Lord can trust the published statistics.
The noble Lord raised a number of other points, including how we measure the effectiveness of the Reserve Forces. We continuously seek to develop how we do that. That said, the noble Lord will note the variety of operations I talked about earlier and the numerous specialisms that Reserve Forces have deployed in recent times, both at home and overseas.
The noble Lord also raised the issue of retention. As your Lordships will know, today sees the publication of the fifth annual tri-service reserves continuous attitude survey, the results of which provide an important insight into the mood and attitudes of serving reservists. This helps the MoD to understand reservists’ opinions, which assists with the developing of reserve service policy, especially relating to the Future Force 2020 and the Future Reserves 2020 programmes. Interestingly, the survey shows that nine out of 10 volunteer reservists, or 93%, feel proud to be in the reserves, and that three-quarters of volunteer reservists, or 74%, are satisfied with service life in general. That is a pleasing outcome.
Some concern was raised about savings and the impact of short-term savings, and I detected that as a theme across all the contributions. The services recognise the potentially disproportionate effect that short-term savings measures could have upon the reserve experience and, for that reason, in-year savings measures have tended to be deflected away from the reserves, and our investment in the reserves continues to be strong.
I have tried to cover the points that have been raised, and if I have omitted anyone’s contribution or failed to answer any point that your Lordships have referred to me, I do apologise. I shall look at Hansard, and I shall endeavour to address these points in a letter.
This has been an opportunity to celebrate and pay tribute to what our reservists do. They make a tremendous contribution to our national security. Our support as a Government is continually evolving, but our support is solid and robust. The ever-changing threats to security and allies mean that we cannot be complacent. Perhaps it is appropriate to conclude by reminding your Lordships that next Wednesday we celebrate Reserves Day, which will provide the country with an opportunity to celebrate the very important contribution that our reservists make to the UK’s defence capability, as well as recognising the support they receive from their civilian employers in enabling them to meet their training and other military commitments. There will be many events taking place around the country, and perhaps your Lordships will find ways of supporting these activities, which I know would be greatly welcomed. I would encourage as many people as possible to get involved by making contact with your local units and attending an event.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Noble Lords have raised a number of important issues, which I am not allowed the time to summarise. Several of the matters raised involve money, but they are not just about money, and they are not just about the amount of money. Some, especially recruiting, are in part about accepting when something is not working, and changing course; and some are about spending money in a more effective way. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, also emphasised the importance of using the reserves to encourage and maintain their sustained capability. In summary, though, the reserves are in good heart and on track towards achieving the objective set them in 2014. I exhort the Government not to allow that encouraging situation to evaporate by spoiling the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar.