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The Reserve Forces

Volume 622: debated on Tuesday 13 February 2001

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7.45 p.m.

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have for sustaining the role and effectiveness of the Reserve Forces.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the extension of the time available for this short debate is most welcome. I declare an interest, in that I served as the honorary president of the Council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association in the United Kingdom. I follow my noble friend Lord Younger and before him Lord Ridley. They were most distinguished and long-serving members of the council. I have had the honour to serve as president with two chairmen: one, recently retired, General Sir Edward Jones, with whom your Lordships will be most familiar; and the new chairman, Colonel Mike Taylor, who is most welcome in this new position, coming as he does from the North West and with particular knowledge of several vibrant Reserve Forces' organisations. It is a great privilege to have worked with Sir Edward and to work with Colonel Mike.

In the time available to me to open the debate, I hope that your Lordships will allow me to concentrate on the reserves rather than our excellent cadet organisations. It may be for the convenience of your Lordships if we return at an indeterminate date in the future to discuss the challenges facing the cadet organisations. However, I shall concentrate on the reserves. It may also be for the convenience of those noble Lords who have recently joined us in the Chamber, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, if I repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Burlison, indicated. The time limit of four minutes now becomes nine minutes due to procedural changes. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, was concerned about the brevity of the time available to him. Doubtless he will be able to expand his comments.

The Reserve Forces have responded with good will and firm commitment to the challenges presented by the Reserve Forces Act 1996 and the Strategic Defence Review. These have been tumultuous times for the Reserve Forces and cadets' organisations. They have got stuck in and got on with the job of implementing the Government's requirements. The role of the reserves has changed from that for the infantry, for example, of combat to support.

I think that many of us welcome the specialist units in the Reserve Forces because they have a great deal to contribute. However, we should not forget that, prior to the Strategic Defence Review, the Territorial Army numbered some 59,000 in established strength and is now down to 41,200. That is a dramatic fall. We have seen the number of TA infantry battalions fall from 33 to 15. The consequence for many of the inevitably regionally county-based Reserve Force organisations has been dramatic. I pay tribute to the smooth reorganisation that has occurred in recent years to achieve that substantial reduction.

The reserve numbers for the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force have not changed so much. They remain broadly unchanged or slightly increased, in some cases with more specialist roles. The great burden of this reduction has fallen on the Territorial Army and in particular the infantry.

The reserves make a significant contribution to military capability in this country. Ten per cent of the UK army personnel in the Balkans are and have been in recent years individual reserve volunteers. The same percentage of our flying squadron establishment is made up of reserve air crew.

The reserves make a significant contribution. As the present Secretary of State pointed out in a recent written article, the reserves could have made an even bigger contribution in Kosovo as the Government faced the prospect of wholesale mobilisation. One or two units were on the verge of being called up en bloc.

I hope that at some point a reserve unit will be called up as a whole—a formed unit, as the Army describes it. That would be particularly helpful for the infantry. For a number of years, individual reservists have volunteered for service and been posted to the units that need them in the field. It could be appropriate to consider the use of formed TA units for certain peacetime roles. For example, in my part of the country the East of England regiment has six TA companies and about a dozen depots in counties stretching from Lincolnshire down to Suffolk. If it were possible, appropriate and useful to call up one or two companies from that disparate spread of volunteers, it would do wonders for morale and, I suspect, for recruitment and retention. They are trained in many different locations and sometimes they train together. With the appropriate notice, calling up a formed unit would present a challenge that our soldiers would appreciate and rise to.

That has happened before. In the Falklands in 1995, the 4th/5th Rangers supported the regular battalion of the Royal Irish Rangers. Apparently that worked well. If we do that, as I hope that we shall, we must give the employers and the volunteers sufficient notice to ensure that we have the co-operation of the employers and the families.

I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Glenarthur is unable to be with us. He is the chairman of the communications working group within the National Employers Liaison Committee. NELC has performed a valuable role in encouraging large and small employers to support the operation of our reserve units.

The reserves play a vital role in our communities. Our reserve forces and cadet organisations are often the only uniformed military body in a city or county. Regular units could be very far away. They help to remind our population of the importance of having well trained regular and reservist troops. In a civil emergency, such as the recent flooding in Yorkshire and Sussex, the reserve forces can play a valuable role. Local authorities call out or ask for assistance from local reserve units on a local basis. In future, we shall need a regional or national organisation. We have a lot to learn from the experience in the United States.

Links with the local Member of Parliament are also important. I hope that the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme can be extended to reserve forces and will encourage constituency Members of Parliament of whichever party to take an interest—and sometimes participate—in the training of their local TA units.

Finally, I shall deal with the perception of our reserves. It is very important not to treat our reservists as part-time regulars. They are not. They are in a wholly different position in terms of their employment and their obligations to their families. They are volunteers with special skills, but they are in local employment. We must be sensitive to the burdens that we put on them. Any mobilisation or call-up in peacetime of a formed unit should be dealt with skilfully and with long-term planning.

I salute the reserves throughout the country in all our Armed Forces. I know that your Lordships will do likewise.

7.55 p.m.

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this subject. The United Kingdom has a long tradition of Reserve Forces. The yeomanry, trained bands and militia all pre-date bodies such as the Territorial Army, but they expressed the same sentiment of local defence. In Northern Ireland recently, more so than in any other region of the United Kingdom, we have been able to benefit from the deployment of the Regular Army and the reserve, albeit in unfortunate circumstances.

The deployment, structure and strength of the Army reflects Government foreign policy to a large extent. Just as foreign policy in 1908, when the Territorial Army was formed by the then Secretary of State, Richard Haldane, differs from the foreign policy of today, so the Territorial Army is a much different force from what it was at its inception.

The Territorial Army has proved to be a skilful chameleon in its ability to blend into its circumstances. The original structure of the TA, as a second-line Army, served it and the British people well in two world wars. However, the situation in post-Second World War Europe called for a very different force.

In the 1960s, the Territorial Army adopted a more recognisable form as a force designed for immediate integration into the Regular Army at short notice. The threat of the Warsaw Pact dictated that shift from a second-line force to one capable of being rapidly integrated and deployed throughout Europe in support of the Regular Army.

Since the major reforms of the late 1960s, the Territorial Army has been subject to many other changes, from the expansion plans of the early 1980s to the culling announced only two years ago. The 21st century will inevitably bring new challenges and the operational requirements of the Reserve Forces will shift accordingly, but it is clear that the Territorial Army and Reserve Forces have a future in the 21st century.

The definite need for the Reserve Forces, increasingly in support roles to front-line soldiers, is without question, even though there are major issues to be dealt with on the means of sustaining effective Reserve Forces.

It is essential that the Territorial Army, in its independent, non-specialist units, should continue to organise geographically as widely as possible to maximise the number of citizens who have easy access to TA units. In an era without conscription, the Territorial Army is more than just a component of the Army. It is an important point of intersection between the public and the Army, just as the jury system provides a point of intersection between the public and the courts. As the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, said, the Territorial Army is a visual manifestation of—indeed, the sole point of contact with—the Armed Forces for many people in the United Kingdom.

The Territorial Army and the Army Reserve have always been inexpensive, accounting for a disproportionately low portion of the defence budget. In the 1980s, the Territorial Army cost only 4.5 per cent of the Army budget, yet it provided 33 per cent of the Army's potential mobilised strength. That is good value for money.

Although one recognises that the format of future military action will depend less on front-line ground troops, the reserve resources should be refocused and retrained rather than reduced, especially when one remembers their importance in the community. The problem of wastage must continue to be addressed. Although the 1998 reforms announced by the Government included proposals to deal with wastage, more must be done.

Undoubtedly it is true that civilians gain much from their participation in the Reserve Forces. However, they must have the incentive of the skills and experience which they gain being properly valued in civilian life and in their civilian employment. Indeed, expanding training and giving volunteers greater opportunities to gain a broader range of skills can only increase the attraction for potential recruits. With the emphasis of the Reserve Forces shifting to support and logistics, there is definite scope for expanding the range of training available.

The continuing unfortunate public perception of the Reserve Forces as "weekend warriors" must finally be put to the sword. With over 900 reservists being mobilised for duties in Bosnia and Kosovo since the Reserves Training and Mobilisation Centre became operational, and with the continuing integration and redirection of the Reserve Forces, those forces are becoming an increasingly integral part of the Army—an Army that is, indeed, dependent on an effective and efficient reserve force.

However, increasing mobilisation of the reserves for peace-keeping and other duties must not act as a deterrent to potential recruits. Heavy and sometimes over-frequent mobilisation of Reserve Forces may lead potential territorial recruits to believe that the commitment that they wish to make would not satisfy the demands that would be placed on them.

One is not suggesting that training commitments should be lessened or that the Reserve Forces should operate on a charitable "contribute what you can" basis. Instead, those who make up the Reserve Forces should continue to be able to consider themselves as Reserve Forces and primarily as civilians. Civilians who give valiant service and who support the national interest and foreign policy by acting as Reserve Forces are essential to the effectiveness and capability of our Army and Armed Forces. The role of the Reserve Forces may evolve and change, but surely our dependency on the Reserve Forces will be a constant.

The Government must continue to maintain an effective reserve force. They can do so only by the continual deployment and development of a reserve force that offers potential recruits skills and rewarding experiences that properly reflect society's appreciation for their service.

8.3 p.m.

My Lords, as someone who is completely unmilitary, I find that I have an almost embarrassing number of interests to declare in this debate, for which I believe the House should be extremely grateful to my noble friend. I speak as a former honorary colonel of the 4th Battalion of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, now as a deputy honorary colonel of the amalgamated Rifle Volunteers, in which that battalion is incorporated, as president of 2203 Squadron of the Hertfordshire Air Cadets, and, of course, as a former, very junior Minister in the Ministry of Defence, responsible at one time, among other things, for the Reserve Forces.

Ever since I first became interested in these matters, it has seemed to me that governments of all hues have consistently grossly undervalued the Reserve Forces. I need not tell your Lordships, who are probably—in fact, certainly—infinitely more experienced than another place in matters of this kind, why that is so. Nevertheless, I want to emphasise that it seems to me that, even in today's world, territorial affiliations are a source of remarkable morale and, therefore, of powerful recruitment for the Regular Army.

On its return from Germany recently, the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment found that to be true. That battalion has always been well recruited but, after a prolonged absence in Germany and also after service in Bosnia, it was very short of soldiers. Thanks to the territorial affiliations of that battalion, which were very much encapsulated by the powerful connections of the then 4th Battalion of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, it was remarkable that it made up that deficiency in record time. In these times when retention is increasingly difficult, particularly for the infantry, that in itself seems to me to be reason enough to ensure that a close connection exists territorially between territorial battalions and their regular affiliates.

I also believe that my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, were absolutely right when they emphasised the important role that Reserve Forces now play in plugging the gaps which increasingly the difficulties of recruitment and retention make appear among the regular forces, again particularly in the infantry. Again, perhaps I may tell your Lordships of a particular instance.

It is remarkable that since 1st July 1999 from C and E Companies of the Rifle Volunteers in Dorset and Devonshire alone—those are the two remaining companies of what used to be the 4th Battalion of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment in an amalgamation which, thanks to the good will on all sides, has taken place and worked but which I cannot help feeling was a very serious error indeed—37 officers and soldiers have served, or are still serving, with the Regular Army.

When one considers the remarkable proportion of the Reserve Forces from those two companies that that represents, I am sure that your Lordships will agree that it illustrates all too clearly the severe difficulties which the Regular Army, in spite of denials from Ministers in your Lordships' House, is experiencing in that respect. Of course, noble Lords will be aware that those are secondments, either under the full-time reserve service—the S Type engagement—or under voluntary mobilised service.

Understandably, when confronted with constant cuts, the Regular Army protects itself first above all. But, inevitably, under that pressure it becomes short term in its views. The Territorial Army loses and, for the reasons that I have explained, I consider that in the long term the Regular Army loses as well. I believe that it is up to us, as politicians, to take a slightly longer view because we cannot expect the Regular Army to do anything other than take a short view if it is under that type of pressure.

For the reason that I have given, if the Territorial Army is to survive and flourish, I suspect that it is not enough that it should be merely, although it is a very important role, the home connection for regular battalions. It also needs a role at home. That is why I was so pleased to hear my noble friend compare the role which the National Guard plays in the United States with what could be done here.

It is true that we hear daily predictions of natural disaster in our country as a result of global warming and other factors. I have no idea whether or not those predictions are true. I know only that if parts of the world where other noble Lords live are under as much water as mine is, they would believe in global warming and its effects all too clearly.

It seems to me that it would be extremely sensible for the Territorial Army to be given a role in which it was one of the first elements of manpower to be called upon in the event of local natural disaster. I believe that my noble friend was absolutely right about that. It is a role which I believe he and I both suggested when we were members of the same government but which unfortunately our colleagues refused to consider. I hope that this Government will take a more sensible view.

I want to add one further point. My noble friend brushed lightly over the role of cadets. However, he and I both know that, just as the Territorial Army with all its potential and its remarkable esprit de corps has been undervalued regularly in recent years, equally the potential benefits of a strong cadet force have been undervalued. They have been underfunded. I am sorry to find that some of the ideas that were current when I was in the Ministry of Defence have not been implemented.

I was struck by a programme which was initiated, your Lordships will not be surprised to hear, by Members of your Lordships' House; namely my noble friend Lady Blatch, who was then in the Department of Education, and another of my noble friends who was then a Minister in the Home Office. The programme tried to ensure that there was a coordinated expansion of Army cadet force detachments all over the country. A number of pilot projects were undertaken.

I remember visiting a number of new cadet attachments in Middlesborough and South Shields. The net result of the new detachments was a dramatic decrease in the level of youth crime in those areas. I remember vividly not only the grateful reaction of the local Chief Constable but also that of parents at the effect of the new Army cadet force detachments. After my departure from the Ministry of Defence I was disappointed that the government of which I was a member hurried to dismantle the plans which were hatched in your Lordships' House. I hope that this new Government will revive them. They would be valuable not only to the Army, which has become an object of derision in far too many of our educational institutions, but also in terms of what the cadet force can do for the community.

Your Lordships should be grateful, as always, to my noble friend for raising these important matters. I hope that this Government will do a little better than the government of which I was a member, in ensuring that the Reserve Forces are valued, better funded and given a more specific and direct role in the affairs of the Army in particular. I believe that the Army has cut off its nose to spite its face in these matters. I think that my noble friend and I are at one on that.

8.17 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing this debate to the attention of your Lordships. I endorse all that he and others have said. I shall concentrate my remarks on the TA Medical Services. However, before I do so, I should like to re-emphasise two points already made because they are particularly important. I must also declare an interest as Honorary Colonel of 306 Field Hospital.

First, the TA is to be congratulated on being 90 per cent recruited in all arms and corps with the exception of the Royal Corps of Signals and The Royal Army Medical Corps, which I shall cover later. However, there is a limit to the numbers of TA that can be used for operational duty. Overuse will dry up the pool, resulting in an ineffective TA. Any government must ensure that the TA is resourced properly.

Secondly, a greater effort must be made to ensure that training is carried out at battalion level so that a commanding officer can train his battalion properly for war. In addition, as my noble friend emphasised, serious consideration should be given to reinforcement by companies or platoons as opposed to individual reinforcement, where it can be difficult for separate TA individuals to develop the essential military ethos and team spirit.

I turn to the Royal Army Medical Corps TA. The Army Medical Services TA establishment was increased by the Strategic Defence Review. At that time there existed an acute shortage of doctors, nurses, radiologists, physiotherapists and pathologists. To reach the establishment required needed an immediate recruiting drive. After the Strategic Defence Review, and as at September 1999, the TA was 4,336 troops below strength. Its establishment is now 7,000. As at 9th February it has a shortfall of just over 2,000. Its recruiting deficiency has halved, but it is still a matter of serious concern. The Army Medical Services TA is to be congratulated on its excellent recruiting results achieving half this particular target. During September to December last year, 211 doctors, nurses and other personnel associated with professions allied to medicine have been recruited, which equates to about 50 individuals per month.

Training for the Army Medical Services TA has improved immensely during the past few years, due to the new Army Medical Services Field Training Centre at Stensall. This is an outstanding training facility for all medical units. It is constructed as a hospital in the field with all its associated stores and medical equipment. It will be particularly beneficial to the four field hospitals recently tasked with a 60-day mobilisation role.

306 Field Hospital is a specialist unit. As its colonel, I can verify that high morale, enthusiasm and keenness is displayed at all times. Its personnel are proud to be members of the TA. They look forward to their annual camp and the two weekend training periods. They are dedicated to their unit and their highly responsible role. I am convinced that if called upon, 306 Field Hospital will be capable of providing timely and high-quality medical care to the Armed Forces on operations and in peacetime.

Many of the Army Medical Services TA have supported the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Balkans, serving alongside their regular counterparts, as have the medical reserves from the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. That not only demonstrates a will of the Territorial Army to serve on operations, but shows that it is capable of using its skills alongside its regular counterparts, and is much commended. I am proud to say that 306 Field Hospital has sent its fair share of medical and non-medical personnel to the Balkans.

Finally, there is a real need for relationships between the MoD and the National Health Service to improve. There should not be a problem with the specialist units as they are recruited from across the UK and would not cause gaps on mobilisation. However, other TA field hospitals depend on manning from the same areas in which National Health Service hospitals have their catchment areas. It is those National Health Service Trusts that are wary about the TA, as a major mobilisation could cause large gaps in their staff who are already under establishment. Proper contingency plans should be drawn up and agreed by the MoD and the National Health Service now.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to all our Reserve Forces who are a link between the military and the civilian community. We should give them much greater prominence throughout the United Kingdom.

8.18 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for bringing to our attention the Reserve Forces at this time. I had the privilege of serving in a Territorial Army formation for some years. I am still connected, on the periphery, to specialist regiments in the Territorial Army, but should like o refer to the Reserve Forces in general.

As the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, and other noble Lords stated, the Reserve Forces deserve credit for embracing the radical need for change caused by the Strategic Defence Review. The review was to their benefit and was sensible. It has resulted in their being more usable and much more used, as we have seen and as various noble Lords have mentioned. However, it must not end there. We must not leave it at that. New ways must continue to be found in which our Reserve Forces can further contribute to the ongoing and future military operational commitments and to provide the training required for this.

I have spoken to people in all three Reserve Forces. They are conscious of the need for reservists to be trained to do their jobs and of the need for them to put in the hours necessary to obtain the required skills. However, we must remember that reservists are not regular sailors, soldiers and airmen; they are volunteers. A volunteer, man or woman, is a special person and usually has a full-time job.

The problem is that the MoD must provide a strong and flexible leadership with a personnel management system which understands the unique circumstances of a reservist and his employer. I am fully aware of the Volunteer Reserve Forces Campaign and pay tribute to it, particularly the excellent Employers Abroad Scheme, which should be encouraged. However, I understand that still more needs to be done in order to ensure that opportunity is given for people to achieve their civilian and military aspirations. Speaking as someone involved in industry, although now rather ancient, I believe that it is all about an employer releasing a young man or woman who returns to the shop floor or the office with skills that can only enhance the commercial interests of the company.

I am also perturbed by the public relations of the Reserve Forces. It would seem that the public relations department believes that as only 2 per cent of the total defence budget goes to the Reserve Forces they can receive only 2 per cent of the public relations effort. That is not right; the Reserve Forces deserve better.

Furthermore, excellent though the public relations department is, I always find that it is on the defensive. The Reserve Forces do not need that. They want a proactive campaign to get their message across. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that Napoleon said that one does not win battles by defending. A little bit of attacking by the public relations department, certainly in the provincial press and media, would help the reservists because there is a good story to tell.

In the past few years, all governments have mucked about with the Reserve Forces—the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. Indeed, they have been mucked about four or five times. The one thing that the Reserve Forces do not need is to be messed about any more. They have a job to do and they need the full support of government and of all of us. They also need the individual and unit resources to train and to be able to take their place alongside a regular outfit. They need great affection and encouragement. The Minister is aware that, standing where I stand, I am not greatly political but I believe that the Government of the day must give the Reserve Forces the resources to do the job. If you work it out, you will realise that it is not too expensive. As the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, said, we owe a debt of honour to our Reserve Forces.

8.25 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Freeman for introducing the debate. Perhaps I may remind the House that I am a serving TA officer, albeit at a reduced level of activity compared with recent years. When I use the term "TA", I use it as shorthand for Reserve Forces. not just the Territorial Army.

The SDR was well received but it had two serious flaws. One was the damage done to the TA, particularly the Infantry. The other was deliberately under-funding the MoD by means of the 3 per cent so-called "savings". The TA thought that the SDR would be the definitive review, but now, apparently, there is another one under way. No doubt it was made necessary in order to balance the books and certainly no one expects it to be an overall enhancement. Can the Minister confirm whether a review is in progress? Does he agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, that the TA does not need to be messed about any more?

I am a logistician and a REME TA officer. However, I believe that the reduction in the capability of the TA Infantry was a serious mistake. First, the TA, in terms of the conceptual, moral and physical components of fighting power, was or even is more than a match for anything other than regular troops from a developed country. Secondly, I believe that our military planners place too much reliance on host nation support in the area of operations, particular for rear area security. Modern operations plan for very long land lines of communications. How can they be made secure against terrorists, bandits and the like?

My noble friend Lord Cranborne has in the past complimented one of my humble contributions. It is now my turn to return the compliment. Among other things, he talked about what I call "military aid to the civil community"—MAC C—and particularly for natural disasters. One of the difficulties is that charges have to be made for military support, even when supplied by the TA, even when the activity would be extremely good training value and even when good for morale, recruiting and public perception. Perhaps we should have special regulations for MAC C supplied by the TA. After all, the direct marginal cost would be negligible compared with the value obtained.

It seems to me that all the recent reviews have assumed that each TA unit needs to have a specific war or operational role. That was fine in the old Warsaw Pact days when we practically knew which wood in Germany we were to hide in. Nowadays, the only certainties are that any deployment will be unexpected; the composition of the force will be uniquely tailored to the operation; and time will be short. That was certainly the case for the planned for, compulsory mobilisation for Kosovo, which in the end proved to be unnecessary. What is important is to be able to train within a deployable unit that could be expanded without too much pain in time of need. Any noble Lord who thinks that that will not be necessary in future had better read the histories of the First and Second World Wars

I suggest that the need for a specific role is often used as an excuse for a cut. We need units which are deployable, possibly in practice only as a formed subunit—for example, a company or squadron-sized unit—but with a less specific role in the ORBAT. After all, if the warning time for an operation that requires large-scale effort is so long, why do we need such specific plans for the ORBAT? I do not suggest that there should be any uncertainty about the function of a unit, but purely the specific deployment role.

There seems to be some concern within the staff about whether a compulsory mobilisation of the TA would be successful; in other words, whether most of the soldiers would turn up. The relatively unsuccessful operational deployment of a TA company to the Falklands is often quoted as evidence of the difficulties. To be honest, if I was invited to go to the Falklands for six months I would probably politely decline. The reason is that the general public, even your Lordships, would not regard it as highly commendable and it would not have the "street cred" (if I may put it that way) of Kosovo.

On the other hand, a TA REME recovery company, of which I was in command at the start of the Kosovo campaign, found itself within a few days of being compulsorily called up. Although we did not know at the time how close we came to it, it was obvious that something was about to happen. One cannot keep these things quiet. However, I never detected any concern among my soldiers about being called up because they knew that it would be for an important national effort. Furthermore, they knew that their employers would be more relaxed about losing them for a while for a Kosovo rather than a Falklands-type operation. I am not convinced that it would be wise compulsorily to call up TA formed units except for operations.

I believe that the public must be absolutely committed to any compulsory mobilisation of formed units or sub-units. From that public support would flow employer support, which is a very severe problem. Despite the efforts of NELC, at a low level employer support can be patchy, to say the least. A decision as to whether a soldier can go on annual camp or a training weekend is made at a very low level in the organisation, often the soldier's immediate line supervisor. A line supervisor may not be aware of the policy direction of the chairman. I recognise that I am slightly at variance with my noble friend Lord Freeman. I am sure that my noble friend is regularly briefed by commanding officers who are eager to have their units mobilised. However, I believe that to do so without public support would be unwise.

The SDR calls for more usable and better trained TA, but planning assumptions are that many TA units should be able to deploy within 90 days. Clearly, that is not realistic given the experience of the Kosovo timescale. Furthermore, individual TA soldiers with no more than two weeks' extra training are deployed on operations. In my experience, to be operationally effective TA soldiers without previous regular experience need to train for about 50 man training days per year. Noble Lords should be aware that TA soldiers who have served on operations are the very experienced ones. It is also important to understand that it is extremely demoralising for a unit to have its man training days restricted for financial reasons. If that happens one runs the risk of attracting volunteers who are motivated for all the wrong reasons. In short, they become—I hate to use the term, but it is accurate—bounty hunters.

I believe that the TA would be much more usable and better trained if individuals were encouraged to train for up to 50 man training days per year. The difficulty lies in finding the funding. Despite the fine words of the SDR, there has been no increase in man training days. Can the Minister say how the TA is better trained and more usable if there has not been an increase—in certain cases, it is the reverse—in man training days?

In the few seconds left to me, and before the noble Baroness begins to become agitated, I should like to comment on the announcement of the heavy equipment transporter contract which uses a combination of PFI and sponsored reserves as provided by the Reserve Forces Act 1996. In principle, I warmly welcome that development. I shall table a separate Unstarred Question to flush out some detail that at the moment is somewhat sparse. There appear to be some concerns or uncertainty about the amount of military training to be undertaken by the sponsored reserves and the performance potential of the vehicle selected, but I shall leave that for another time.

8.35 p.m.

My Lords, I follow the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, in welcoming many aspects of the recent review, which has increased the effectiveness of our voluntary reserves but, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, rightly remarks, makes them less of a territorial army. There is a tension between the two which we need to understand and recognise. In terms of improving the effectiveness of the voluntary reserves what has been achieved is very worthwhile. To some extent we have lessened the old Regular Army/TA divide. I now understand that the Regular Army treats the reserves much more as an extension of itself. The idea that there should be full-time reserves who serve with the Regular Army is very much a step in the right direction, and the plans for the mobilisation of a substantial part of the voluntary reserves for Kosovo showed the effectiveness of that.

Given the long-term demographic trends flagged up by both of the non-White Papers which the Government kindly sent me the other day, particularly the ageing British population and the fact that manpower requirements become a much more difficult problem, we on these Benches believe that the use of and dependence upon reserves is likely to increase. In the past we on these Benches have urged that the Government should perhaps look at shorter terms of full-time service, particularly in the Army, as one way forward. That is also a way to avoid some of the immense problems of long-term service in the Army to do with housing, wives, children and so on. Thai is a further way in which we see closer integration of reserves with small regular units.

I also agree strongly with those who suggest that reserve and cadet training is a valuable way to provide new skills to people who have failed to pick up skills in school. The extent to which the US uses specialist training in particular within its armed services as a means of extending additional skills to those who have failed in school is an example that we should consider. Certainly, we should also note the American experience of effective, well trained reserve units.

I strongly agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, said about the Defence Medical Services. I simply note that other specialist areas, such as intelligence, linguistics and the new units to provide expertise in information warfare, are also part of the way forward.

I believe that noble Lords should invite the Minister to return in future to the question of assistance to the civil community within the United Kingdom. That requires further attention. The loss of territorial units spread around the country contributes further to the decline of what used to be civil defence. That is not something on which the voluntary reserves can easily double up.

I should like to flag up one issue that will arise. Under the European Defence Initiative, aid to the civil community abroad, in particular the provision of a mobilisable police reserve, is another issue to which this House and the other place must give attention. We lack a mobilisable police reserve at present. When we come to consider the Armed Forces Bill we shall discover that the Ministry of Defence Police is not the potential for that reserve. Clearly, that is something that we do not have and must invent.

In conclusion, I simply echo the importance of the Reserve Forces, the extent to which the recent reforms have improved their effectiveness and the importance of maintaining and extending what has been achieved in the past two years.

8.40 p.m.

My Lords, your Lordships owe a particular debt to my noble friend Lord Freeman for introducing the debate. In so doing, my noble friend recounted the time that he spent in the Minis try of Defence. However, he omitted to mention that he was also a chartered accountant. The work of chartered accountants has had much to do with the financial state in which we find the reserve forces today.

As noble Lords have said, the numbers in the Territorial Army have dropped by 18,000. That makes it much more difficult for the TA to operate as formed units. There is no doubt that the reserve forces have done a good job in filling in the holes where the regulars do not have the men to do it on their own. But this is not the Territorial Army which we have known and loved since 1908.

The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, talked about the increase in public relations on behalf of the Territorial Army. I was brought up into this because my father, who was one of only three territorial major-generals, was director of public relations throughout the second half of the war. He kept his Territorial Army interests very strongly at heart.

The local newspapers are an idle lot. They are only too pleased to get someone to write their copy for them. So if local units do that they will get very good publicity. But it is no good waiting for the Minis try of Defence to do it for them; they have to do it themselves.

As has been pointed out, the bulk of those who have been called in to work with the Regular Army have been the specialists. Infantrymen have not been so much in demand. It is with this in mind that Her Majesty's Government have decimated, or, rather more than decimated, the territorial infantry battalions. The next Conservative government will have to decide whether it is in the country's interest to restore the TA to its former size—a change of policy which will inevitably involve the restoration of the infantry battalions. The regular services will also be strengthened by such a policy, as the TA, including the infantry battalions, provides a core for the recruitment of regulars. My noble friend Lord Cranborne made particular reference to that point. Thought will also have to be given to the reversal of the policy of selling off the TA centres, which at present play a major part in the life of the areas in which they are situated.

The Government are firmly committed to an increase in the Regular Army, but they have not been very successful with it yet. Recruitment has done well. I am sure that the Minister will tell us that. But retention is still very poor. News of the recently published document Pay 2000 seems to be exacerbating the situation. For the present, it would he extremely unwise to reduce the number of the reserves, even accepting the point that the Government aim to make them more effective. It should be said, in parenthesis, that Britain is almost the only country which does not have a proper reserve force. The United States has eight National Guard divisions.

The Government seem to be committed to the European force outside NATO. Goodness me, we have heard enough about that. In a written reply in another place last December, the Secretary of State not only killed the traditional Territorial Army, but said that it would play a part in the work of that European force. It is difficult to see how it can do so without infantry and without formed units of any specialisation.

The relationship between the TA and the Regular Army has never been close. Now the regulars, and the Government, are in favour of individual drafting rather than keeping the force in formed units. As matters stand, the need for formed units, particularly of infantry, is relatively small, except for Petersberg tasks, but there can be no guarantee that that situation will continue. There can be no guarantee that matters will not change. Even if we do accept that there will be no change, we are entitled to a firmly-voiced caveat that the Government must get it right. There is, as yet, no evidence that they are doing so.

The reduction in the number of centres must damage the still important role of the TA as a social asset. If we continue, as seems to be the case, to be flooded out, the TA will play an increasingly important role in such emergencies. The Ministry of Defence and its friends are apt to say that the cost of this should be charged to the Home Office or the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and not the defence budget. So it should. That is what the oft-proclaimed concept of joined-up government is about.

In the bulk of the potential tasks that the TA will be called on to fulfil, it is important to emphasise the geographical nature of the reserves. That continues to have considerable social value for local and national emergencies. The role of the TA in knitting together a community should not be forgotten. My noble friend Lord Freeman talked about a unit which was based partially in Lincolnshire and partially in Suffolk. That is nothing: my noble friend Lord Cope pointed out that there is one which is based partly in Croydon and partly in Bristol.

The reserve forces are an admirable example of the volunteer principle and the togetherness principle. The Government's policy is doing much to damage it.

The House of Commons Select Committee on Defence has been conducting a major inquiry into Armed Forces personnel issues. I ask the Minister to confirm that, when the committee reports, the Government will receive its recommendations with an open mind, or even with a predisposition to accept them. Elsewhere, particularly with regard to DERA, the Government have looked at the committee report and ignored it, saying, "This is what we will do anyway". I hope that they will not do that with regard to the reserve forces. I particularly hope that they will be robust in their fight against the common enemy—the Treasury.

Inevitably, the debate has concentrated on the Territorial Army. There has been relatively little mention either of the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force or the cadets. I would make one point. When I was director general of King George's Fund for Sailors, we played a large part in supporting the sea cadets. I can speak only for the sea cadets and not the other two forces. They played an enormous part in keeping the youth of the towns, and particularly the very bad areas, on a straight line.

I mention another point in passing. My noble friend Lord Freeman talked about the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. That is a remarkable body and great tribute should be paid to Sir Neil Thorne, formerly the Member of Parliament for Ilford South, for the work and support—both physical and financial—that he has given to that scheme. Without him I do not believe that it would exist.

The debate has emphasised many, if not all, of the problems facing a government who have to decide the balance between the regular forces and the reserves. The Government may not have the problem much longer, but they should set out the options in a manner in which men and materiél can be used in the most effective manner. It would seem that the current policy does not entirely do that.

8.49 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for introducing this subject and giving us the opportunity to pay tribute to the very real contribution made by the Reserve Forces in support of their regular counterparts. I appreciate the comments of noble Lords who have taken part in what has been a superb debate. I know that each and every one of them, in raising the issues that confront the Reserve Forces, have done so with sincerity. My noble friend Lady Symons would have wished to make an input to the debate, but regrettably she is overseas on departmental business. I hope that I shall be able to reflect some of her views during my contribution.

The Reserve Forces, both volunteer and regular, constitute a significant part of the country's Armed Forces. As well as around 200,000 regular personnel, the services can call on over 47,000 volunteer reserves and over 190,000 regular reserves. Yes, Territorial Army numbers fell, but of necessity, following our Strategic Review of post-Cold War operational requirements. But numbers of all volunteer forces have stabilised, or in some areas, as was noted by noble Lords, are starting to rise. These forces make a crucial contribution to our military capability and a crucial contribution to the United Kingdom's reputation as a force for good in the world.

The Strategic Defence Review enabled the Ministry of Defence to define more clearly what it required of volunteer forces in the future. Their main contribution has switched from reinforcement of UK forces engaged in major conflict to supporting regular forces deployed on a much wider range of operations. The reserves are integral to our ability to expand our forces in times of crisis. The more flexible use of reservists also gives us the opportunity to harness skills not readily found within the regular Armed Forces. We believe that it makes sense to use reservists in roles where their particular skills are most useful, rather than in filling combat roles for which the regular forces have more relevant and up-to-date training.

The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, asked for a formed unit to be called on at some point. As we continue to make use of the Reserve Forces in a number of different ways, the use of formed units is always an option and forms part of our planning in the long-term.

The Government are making ever-increasing use of the powers the Reserve Forces Act introduced just over four years ago. That Act, with its new powers, and safeguards for reservists and employers, underpins the Government's policy of making the Reserve Forces more integrated, more relevant and more useable. By introducing more varied forms and categories of reserve service, the Act has enabled more people to take up the opportunity to serve, in ways that fit their personal circumstances.

In particular, I should like to highlight the success of full-time reserve service and the implementation of the sponsored reserve concept. There are now around 1,200 reservists serving on full-time reserve service terms. They are making a significant contribution to alleviating shortfalls in regular manpower, alongside around 470 volunteer and regular reserves who are currently called out in support of operations in the UK and overseas. This is not to treat reservists as part-time regulars, as was suggested during the course of the debate. Such service provides an opportunity for individual reservists to volunteer to work alongside their regular colleagues for a fixed term. We believe that such opportunities are good overall for morale, recruitment and retention in the Reserve Forces.

My noble friend Lady Symons announced last October that the Ministry of Defence had signed the first contract for the use of special members of the Reserve Forces—more familiarly known as sponsored reserves—in the RAF's Mobile Meteorological Unit. Last month, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, she also announced that the privately financed heavy equipment transporter project was one where the preferred bidder was likely to deliver a significant proportion of the service by using sponsored reserves.

A number of noble Lords drew attention to the restructuring of the Territorial Army under the Strategic Defence Review. I believe it is clear that the TA is now better balanced to support the SDR scales of effort and the expeditionary nature of our defence forces. We require specialists such as signallers, logistic units and medical personnel for deployment in the Balkans and other theatres. Those are precisely the areas that were strengthened under the SDR. Territorial Army personnel have greeted their new roles with enthusiasm. Moreover, despite the reductions caused by the SDR, the level of TA volunteering to support the Regular Army on operations remains high, despite having a smaller TA on which to draw. I pay tribute to the members of the TA for their continued commitment and enthusiasm. In response to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, perhaps I may say that there is no intention further to restructure the Reserve Forces.

In order fully to implement the Strategic Defence Review, we are studying ways in which the Territorial Army and the regular Reserve Forces can be better integrated and given more effective roles. That is not to say that the Ministry of Defence is complacent. The TA advertising campaign continues to ensure that the TA is generally well manned. The department is running a spring recruitment campaign, which is focusing specifically on officers and the Army Medical Services nationally. The campaign culminates in a national TA Day on 31st March. Overall, 57,383 people attended last year, which represents an 83 per cent increase on 1999. We hope to improve on that this year.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, mentioned the cadet forces. I welcome their comments. The Government have made available funds to support the Army Cadet Force's recruitment campaign and we are seeking to ensure that cadet organisations are fully integrated into the Government's youth initiatives.

The Defence Medical Services have for many years relied on the use of reservists to augment regular medical teams. While the overall reserve manning situation is showing some signs of improvement, there are still shortages in some key areas; for example, accident and emergency physicians, surgeons, anaesthetists and critical care nurses.

The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, drew attention to the need for employer support. The majority of NHS trusts have adopted a positive attitude with regard to the volunteer reserve status of their employees. A number of initiatives are being implemented at present which are designed to encourage NHS trusts to support membership of the Reserve Forces. Those include the establishment of the National Employers' Liaison Committee Medical Working Group, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur. The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, made the point that it was not possible for the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, to be present for the debate. I know that it must have been important business to have kept him away from such a debate. The schemes allow NHS managers to see defence medical personnel in an operational environment. Visits to the Balkans have demonstrated to NHS managers the professionalism of the Defence Medical Services on operational deployments.

The MoD is continuing actively to recruit medical reservists. Between 1st September 1999 and 30th August 2000, 388 professionally qualified medical workers were recruited into the TA. This recruitment figure shows a net gain of 203 and this TA campaign will continue to be funded until at least the autumn of this year. The focus of this year's campaign will be on the recruitment of nurses.

The MoD has spent considerable time examining ways to remove the practical difficulties that can prevent it from making the best use of its reservists. For example, the concept of reserved occupations was withdrawn with effect from 1st January this year. The department took this decision because the Reserve Forces Act allows all employers to seek exemption from mobilisation of their employees. We consider that it is no longer necessary to provide some employers with a permanent exemption from call-out for their entire workforce.

We recognise that in order to be able to call on so many volunteers, as the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, mentioned, we need the support of employers. We have to fully persuade employers of the real benefits that they can derive from employing reservists, such as the training and motivation of their workforce. That is the message that the MoD and the Reserve Forces, along with the cadet associations, will be fully involved in delivering.

The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, and a number of other noble Lords also mentioned the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. We welcome the attempts to develop the scheme so that it includes more contact with members of the Reserve Forces and hope that Members of both Houses will take advantage of the opportunities that the expanded scheme will offer. We are grateful to the associations for being so willing to help with developing the scheme. The Director of the Reserve Forces and Cadets, Brigadier Lang, is looking at ways to take forward the suggestions made.

As president of the Council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, is an eloquent advocate of the value of the Reserve Forces to this country. We have seen a measure of his passion here tonight. The volunteer associations provide invaluable assistance to the MoD in generating support for the Reserve Forces from local communities. Their day-to-day support of reservist activities and their management of much of the reserve estate play their part in sustaining the effective role of the Reserve Forces. I believe that the past year has required more hard work and greater dedication than usual from the associations. As the impact of SDR changes to the Reserve Forces took hold, this was vitally important.

There are a number of points which I may not have covered. I shall write to noble Lords in response to those questions which I have not been able to cover in my remarks. However, I thank all noble Lords who give so much of their time to this worthy cause. In conclusion, I should like to take this opportunity to thank the members of staff of all the associations for their continued unstinting efforts.

House adjourned at three minutes past nine o'clock.