§ 11.1 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is the present strength of the reserve forces, what plans they have for their future enhancement and whether they are satisfied that these forces are able to fulfil the role allotted to them in the defence of this country.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing I hope to turn your Lordships from the turbulent seas of education to the calmer waters of defence policy, even though in the process I seem to be rapidly emptying the Chamber.
§ I do not ask this Question only to get an Answer, but for three brief and simple reasons. In defence debates in this House attention has concentrated in the main on the major strategic and nuclear issues which face the country and the contribution of our reserve forces has taken a back seat. I therefore hope to give your Lordships an opportunity which has not been available for some time even at this late hour to discuss these forces. I am grateful in advance to those who will speak in this debate tonight.
§ I should also like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on all that they have done to strengthen our reserve forces over the past few years. I am not making a party political broadcast, as I believe that any Government would have had to do just as much in their place. I should like to praise publicly the many thousands of young men and women who give up their spare time to be volunteers in these forces.
§ My first point is this. Perhaps the very success of a nuclear defence policy is the enemy of voluntary part-time service. If, as is argued now, global war is impossible, why do we need reserves at all? And the INF Treaty, which might be perceived to reduce tension yet further, may further accentuate this trend of thought. However, reserve forces are still needed in ever increasing numbers in my belief if we are to fulfil our NATO commitment and if we are to remain the only European country in NATO without any form 1475 of conscription whatsoever. I am sure that we all reject any form of conscription in this country in peacetime.
§ The territorial army, by far the largest element of our reserves, will provide more than 40 per cent. of the army by 1990. As that is at a cost of less than 5 per cent. of the army budget, the advantages of having such reserves must be only too obvious. I suspect that they are especially obvious to the Treasury. The temptation to increase that percentage beyond 40 per cent. must become even more obvious in the future.
§ Few part-time soldiers, sailors or airmen can possibly be as efficient as a regular soldier, sailor or airman in all respects. Furthermore, we have to realise that no more than 70 per cent. of our reserves are classed as trained soldiers at any given moment. One reason for that high figure is that there is much too high a percentage of wastage. "Wastage" is a horrible word to use in referring to human beings but it means volunteers who leave after too short a time. The figure for those leaving in their first year has been about 30 per cent. for many years.
§ Although we may have a large and enthusiastic force of volunteers, too high a percentage is gone within three or four years. We should therefore have, in a period of rising tension such as happened in 1950 with Korea, in 1956 with Suez and indeed to some extent in 1982 with the Falklands War, a large number of partly trained ex-volunteers flocking back to join the colours who could not possibly be absorbed in the time available. I do not know whether or not that is a good way to fulfil our NATO commitment. I rather doubt it. Moreover, I fear that when my noble friend replies to the Question he will tell us that recruiting is not reaching its target at the moment.
§ We must discover why the turnover is so high. At the moment, no single reason can be discovered. In previous debates I have spoken about the loss of income which can be suffered by an unemployed man or woman who volunteers to join the reserve forces. I shall say no more about that matter tonight. However, it remains a considerable injustice. It is only one of many factors. Others may include either too much or too little military activity and pay, which is always at the front of a soldier's thoughts. I was delighted to see that the same problem exists in the United States. However, with their charming use of the English language, instead of referring to "wastage" the Americans call it "front-end turbulence".
§ Unfortunately, the sort of savings—I do not use the word "cuts"—which have been threatened in the past can have a disproportionate effect on wastage. People readily vote with their feet and there is no way of restraining them. As an example, there was a threat to remove No. 2 ceremonial dress for the territorial army. That was particularly felt in Scotland, where they thought that they would lose their kilts. Although that did not happen, the damage was done. Then there was the threat to ration the number of days which a man could spend on training. Those threats were not realised but they did damage to the relatively fragile confidence of the volunteer. He felt unloved. I do not deny that we must scrutinise all 1476 aspects of public expenditure most carefully all the time. However, in this field the savings will not be worth the potential cost.
§ I repeat that the Government have done a great deal. That is especially true of the Secretary of State, my noble friend Lord Trefgarne when he was Under-Secretary, and his successor, Mr. Roger Freeman. They have supported the reserve forces consistently and helpfully throughout. I am delighted to say so. Believing that as I do, it may seem churlish to go on to suggest improvements. However, this is an opportunity to put forward new ideas in what I hope is a constructive way.
§ Modern equipment is now very good indeed. It is a long time since I made my maiden speech on this matter, 20 years after the end of the Second World War. I looked that up last night and found that I had referred to the fact that soldiers were training with wireless sets which had the Russian language on their controls. Those days are over. Many new training centres have been built and old ones modernised. However, some units are not well housed. Although pay is equal to that of the regular forces, the annual bounty, which is a considerable incentive, could be more varied to act as an incentive to stay longer in the service and must keep up with inflation at all costs.
§ Recently the Government set up a national employers' liaison committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Thomas Macpherson, who was the brother of our dearly loved comrade, the late Lord Drumalbyn. The Secretary of State's acceptance of the cost incurred in carrying out the committee's recommendations is much to be welcomed. I am delighted to say how pleased everyone connected with the reserve forces was when this news was announced recently. The thrust of the report means that a considerable effort has to be made to enhance the status of the reserve forces in public life and to persuade employers that releasing men for such a purpose is very much in their own interests.
§ This campaign will be an expensive and continuous one over several years. It will make a most valuable contribution towards tackling the problems. What is needed is a commitment from the Government at the highest possible level in support of the reserve forces and a major effort to persuade people that those who join are supported and encouraged to continue their training and are in no way penalised through loss of job opportunities or promotion when they are absent.
§ I was struck on a visit to America, where I went with Mr. Macpherson, by how much importance industry and indeed the President of the United States himself attach to voluntary service in the reserves and the National Guard, and how much propaganda is directed towards that end with considerable success. It is a country where the banging of the patriotic drum is much easier than here. But I hope that government Ministers whose own commitment is not in doubt will persuade the Prime Minister to lend her weight publicly to this campaign. It may take her mind off her considerable worries in another place.
§ I suggest that we consider making much more use of the reserve naval, Royal Marine and air force 1477 components. The target strength for 1990 is 7,800 for the Royal Naval Reserve, 1,580 for the Royal Marines and 2,201 for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. I cannot tell your Lordships what the "one" is to do in the air force. I hope that he will be flying an aeroplane. At the moment, the RAAF has no aeroplanes. Perhaps he will learn to fly the first one that it has. These numbers are not great, spread over the country. They would not be a major component in any mobilisation.
§ There must be many people who spend a great deal of time in boats or small aeroplanes who could, in some form or another, be enrolled in volunteer units for hostilities. All evidence suggests that in any period of tension reconnaissance is vital. I doubt whether our home defence reserve forces, with the exception of the three regiments equipped with Land Rovers, have any mobile reconnaissance capabilities at all. To involve those people would be cost effective. I very much hope we can consider that point in the future.
§ We should make much more use of our reserve forces in national emergencies. I am obviously not talking about strike breaking. But they could help with events such as last year's hurricane. That would go some way towards giving the territorial army a greater status in the country as a whole and provide useful emergency manpower. Of course it costs more if pay is involved, and I believe it would require legislation. But it would be a cost-effective way to save lives and property. It would also give our volunteers yet more worthwhile tasks to perform within the community. They are equipped for such work.
§ If one appeals to industrialists on this matter, it is, as I have said, an appeal to their patriotism. To the small business, that may not be enough. If one employs three people, one of whom goes to camp, one is short of one-third of the workforce. More and more, small businesses are the thing of the future. I believe that some reward or recognition for the owner of a small business which helped in that way would be worth considering. Again, it might be cost effective. I have not time to go into whether it could be a taxation concession or a prestigious award.
§ All these things cost money; there is no denying that. On the other hand, to get down the wastage to which I have already referred at some length by even 1 per cent. would mean a great saving on training costs and make the whole force much more efficient. The NELC report to which I have referred suggested that even a 1 per cent. reduction in wastage from the territorial army alone, on a strength of 80,000, would create an annual saving of £4 million, I know that that figure is disputed. It may not be accurate. I do not believe, however, that it is that far out. We should find out what it is. Time is not on our side because what The Times referred to recently as the "demographic time bomb"—the number of young people of the relevant age group will drop rapidly after 1990—is nearly on us.
§ Finally, I pay tribute to those who have volunteered their services to the reserves over the years. I have been involved with the TA one way or another myself for over 40 years and have the honour at present to be president of the Council of TA Associations. I have always found that those who 1478 serve in the reserve forces have an added dimension to their lives which has made them, in the words of my noble friend Lord Chelwood, in a pamphlet written some time ago, "twice a citizen". That is a very apt phrase which I think is still true today. I can think of no praise which is too high for those who are ready to serve their country in this way and who devote their time to their training with such enthusiasm. I hope that we can let them know how grateful we are.
To conclude, Hilaire Belloc wrote with his usual double-edged pen:
Let us give thanks for the glorious volunteer
Who fills the armies of the world with fear".
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Viscount Allenby of Megiddo
My Lords, I believe that we are all most grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, for raising this most important Question about our reserves and for so ably explaining his three reasons for doing so. I believe that it comes at a most appropriate time. The regular forces are facing critical problems over manning and financial cutbacks for new equipment which may require radical change in the future unless more finance is made available by the Government.
I have to declare an involvement as I have a responsibility for recruiting for the army and I am a member of a number of TAVR reserve associations.
The territorial army now represents about a third of the army's order of battle on mobilisation. That figure is set to rise to two-fifths or 40 per cent. in 1990, as we have heard. For that to happen, 86,000 army reservists are required. While the inflow has been most encouraging the strength of the reserve army is 10,000 below the target set for the year 1990. Indeed, the recruited strength is lower than it was two years ago. Because of the much talked about demographic trend and the very much improved employment situation throughout the country, the regular army also over the past six months has faced a downward trend in recruiting against the manpower target. Based on the rate of applications to join the army, that downward trend will continue for some time and, I suggest, could mean a battalion fewer of infantry and a squadron fewer of Chieftain battle tanks because of the lack of manpower; all this for a regular army which is already overcommitted for the numbers of men it may recruit.
Over half of our reserves are recruited from the age group of 18 to 26 year-olds. By the 1990s, we are told, there will be 28 per cent. fewer 16 to 19 year-olds than there were in 1985. That is nothing new, but one wonders whether when the Minister said on 3rd July 1985 (at col. 1265 of Hansard):I am confident that the target of 86,000 is achievable with sustained efforts on recruiting and retention",he took note of the demographic trend, and whether he is still so confident. I very much hope that he is.
I should like to pay tribute to him and to the Minister resonsible for the TA for the understanding and help they have offered to the council. They are keen to listen and to do their best on behalf of the TA, and that is very much appreciated.
I mention the figures because I believe that it is important to balance most carefully the force levels 1479 between the reserves and the regular forces. I believe that there may be a temptation in the future to increase the dependency on the reserves because of their relative cheapness in comparison with the regular forces. Therefore, I very much hope that the Government will not view the 40 per cent. figure as an interim figure.
The most significant event, and indeed the good news as far as concerns the territorial army, is the establishment of the National Employer Liaison Committee for Volunteers and Reserve Forces under the chairmanship of Mr. Macpherson, as has already been mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. The aim of the committee is to provide independent advice to Ministers on the need to win and maintain the support of employers of the volunteer and reserve forces and to recommend how those measures may be achieved.
The recommendations of the committee's first report were accepted by the Under-Secretary of State in another place on 29th February of this year, and work is now proceeding on its implementation. It is important to see those recommendations in the correct perspective and not to rely on the work of that very able committee as a way of solving the problems of the territorial army.
The committee has considerable resources of £8 million spread over four years to bolster recruiting in the reserve forces and to create a greater public awareness of the reserve forces and what they do. In my opinion, there may be danger in that through the advice of the committee Ministers may be taking on a role which the TAVR associations and their respective committees were originally charged to handle; alternatively, the associations at regional level will have an even greater task without either the expertise or resources to handle it. I hope that the Minister will clarify that point and possibly give some indication tonight as to how the recommendations of the committee are to be implemented.
There are a number of interrelated but unquantifiable reasons why a young man joins the reserves today. They range from his desire to learn a trade, to drive a lorry or operate a sophisticated radio, to improving himself, his status or his social standing in relation to his colleagues at work, or possibly the desire for a change away from the boring routine, for adventure and excitement. I even go so far as to suggest it may be for the simple expediency of acquiring free of charge a combat jacket and boots. The boots are none too popular these days, as we heard on 10th March in an Answer to a Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. One hopes that they will be more popular in the future.
Once the reservist has achieved what he set out to do and believes that he is not going to make further progress his interest declines and his attendance drops away. The resulting wastage has been running at the same average for many years and it remains a major problem for the TA. The proposal that there should be a 5 per cent. reduction in wastage was made by General Sir Frank Kitson in 1984 when he was Commander-in-Chief of United Kingdom land forces. Sadly, this wastage has not been reduced, and I think a more realistic look should be taken at the figures.
1480 Of the 30 per cent. wastage, surely 7 per cent. is inevitable because of age, change of civilian employment and for other reasons. It is the remaining 23 per cent. wastage which needs to be tackled effectively. Mr. Macpherson says in his report that if wastage can be reduced from 30 per cent. to 25 per cent. in four years there will be an estimated saving of £4 million for each percentage point of reduction, which is a very worthwhile saving.
I want to avoid going down the path of finance as I know that other noble Lords will be talking on this subject, but I believe that a case exists and that a way should be found for reimbursing employers for their share of the national insurance contribution when they release volunteers for a continuous training period such as camp. I also believe that the bounty has a sound retention value at the two and three year point in a reservist's service. It could be enhanced by possibly splitting it, though I understand that a trial on this has had an unfavourable response, or possibly by graduating the bounty in relation to the length of service. Today a major with 15 years service receives the same bounty as a colleague who has recently been promoted. Certainly, pay and conditions need to be enhanced in the future and the very real warts must be removed. I go so far as to say that a pension may be necessary to encourage the long-service volunteer. We live in a very monetarist age.
Mr. Macpherson noted in his report that requirements coming down the chain of command have caused some commanding officers and company commanders in their enthusiasm to overload their timetables. Overstretch is another cause of wastage, particularly among the experienced young captains with expanding business commitments and possibly a family commitment as well. They find that they cannot meet the TA commitment and they leave. For those units with roles in BAOR long training hours are often required in preparation for their visits abroad, recces and conferences, leaving little time for in-house management, recruiting and sport. Overseas exercises and training are attractive to the individual young soldier but not so attractive to the older man with family and business commitments. Overstretch is having its impact on the wastage rate.
While a great deal of effort has gone into winning the support of senior employment management, and that often filters through to the personnel departments, two problems remain. There is still a certain amount of opposition from middle and lower management who have quotas and targets to meet. Small firms face difficulties in having to replace one or two men. Self-employed men also face problems when having to take time off, often at an inconvenient time of year. I recently heard of a customs officer who had to forgo his annual camp at short notice because an important course at his civilian place of employment was suddenly offered and absence from the course would have resulted in a year's wait for another opportunity as well as a barrage of unhelpful and discouraging comments made, if not openly then certainly behind the scenes. A longer lead-in time and a more formal form of notification for annual camp might well alleviate the problem.
I believe that there are lessons to be learnt from our other reserves, some of which are having success in recruitment and retention; for example, in the Royal 1481 Marine Reserve, which has a target figure of 1,850 by 1993, retention of trained men is good. One of the major factors is the variety of training and the challenging specialisations that can be offered to the reservist. For instance, the Royal Marine Reserve is the only reserve from outside the Eastern bloc not domiciled within the Arctic Circle, who are trained in both mountain and arctic warfare. Despite the small size of the Royal Marine Reserve in comparison with other United Kingdom reserves, it has come to be regarded by many reserve forces as a fourth reserve force in its own right. That is something of which this small band of dedicated reservists is justifiably proud.
Recruitment is also going well for the RAF Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. They, too, are expanding to 2,200 later this year. Their roles have been widened to include ground and air defence of installations, movements and aeromedical evacuation, often serving alongside their regular counterparts in modern, well equipped buildings and using up-to-date equipment. Those are all factors that encourage the volunteer to continue to serve.
Over recent years the territorial army has made great strides in improving the training of the individual soldier. Recruit courses are now run in regular army depots rather than in drill halls. Potential officers go to Sandhurst and potential staff officers go to Camberley—to name a few of the changes that have taken place. The territorial army has come to rely on the regular army support in return for an enhanced role by the TA. Any cut in the individual training support may be seen as a lack of support by the Ministry of Defence and government and may well be counter-productive so far as concerns efficiency.
There have also been a number of initiatives by the territorial army itself. I should like to draw the attention of noble Lords to a recent initiative called Exercise Fast Track, and to quote from the leaflet that has been published:Exercise Fast Track is a trial, the purpose of which is to see whether it is possible, in four weeks continuous training, to prepare Potential Officers for the TA Commissioning Course at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst".It is a very worthwhile initiative. Another initiative is Executive Stress which attracts young executives to take part in training to see whether they would like to join the TA. It all widens the general knowledge of the territorial army.
I believe that the time has come for a more imaginative collective training package in order to retain the interest of the volunteer once he has completed his initial training. The creation of TA brigades is a most welcome move, but they are so understaffed that they are not fully effective. Some time ago I had an idea put forward to me by a volunteer that in areas where recruitment to the TA is good, TA companies could have a permanent affiliation to their regular counterparts.
I should possibly illustrate my remarks by giving an example. If there were a company, say, of the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment in Wiltshire or Berkshire, that company could fly to Hong Kong, where the regular battalion was currently serving in order to relieve the equivalent number of men to return to the United Kingdom on courses and on 1482 leave. In return, the volunteer company would get its fortnight's training. I appreciate that there are a number of problems to overcome, not least that of who pays. However, I put it to your Lordships that it would relieve overstretch, forge a more positive link between the regular and the reservist, and might even persuade the regular to join the reserves on completion of his regular service.
My Lords, was the noble Viscount referring to the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry a moment ago, or to the Royal Berkshires? I was in the Wiltshire Regiment.
§ Viscount Allenby of Megiddo
My Lords, no; I was referring to the mythical company that would be formed in support of that noble regiment, the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment. I very much hope that in future we shall see the return of the Berkshire Yeomanry, which, as the noble Viscount well knows, was dropped from the Berkshire and Westminster Dragoons some years ago.
We have heard fitting tributes to the reserve forces of this country and the important role that they play. I should like to say something about the importance of the Council of Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Associations and the TAVR associations country-wide. In recent years we have heard a great deal about the one-army concept, a term that is often taken too literally and has led to a number of misguided ideas and wrong assumptions. We need to remind ourselves that we live in unique times, having all-volunteer regular forces as well as volunteer reserve forces, of whom we are justly proud.
The fundamental is that the regular is full time and the reservist is part time. This is where the TA associations have such a vital role to play. Established in 1907 by an Act of Parliament, there are now just 14 of these associations with small full-time staffs of Crown servants supported by hard-working committees of volunteer members, many of whom have previously been TA soldiers themselves. Together they promote the reserve forces, maintaining the pride and tradition of the territorial army. The associations understand the territorial soldier, something that I have to admit the regular soldier does not always do. I regret to say that a certain antipathy remains among the regulars to this day against the territorial army.
The TA council and associations do an excellent job. It is most important that their role and functions as embodied in the 1907 Act are enhanced and that they are not further reduced in future to satisfy some tidy military mind and to achieve a small saving. They are fundamental to the very existence and proper functioning of the TA.
Today the reserve forces are highly proficient for the limited number of war roles for which they train and prepare. They are generally well equipped and extremely enthusiastic. Both on training and on parade it is at times difficult to differentiate between the regular and the reserve. Morale is as high as it has ever been; indeed, higher. This could easily be eroded away if the Government were to blow hot and cold in the future. They need government support now more than ever before if all reserves are to meet their increased target figures by 1990. I for one hope that 1483 they get that much-needed support and that they achieve the figures set for them.
§ 11.34 p.m.
§ Lord Holderness
My Lords, the importance of the debate is that it concerns our commitment to NATO. While many of the reserve forces will be committed to NATO, a number of them that are not so committed will play an indispensable role in the defence of Britain.
One of the hazards of such a debate is that many of us tend to say rather similar things one after another. I shall do my best to avoid vain repetition. I should like to repeat the essential argument that the reserve forces even now represent such a high proportion of the army's strength that they are not only extremely good value for the taxpayer but a reminder of the potential dangers of failure for any reason to recruit the necessary soldiers for our defence.
Recruiting, which has already been mentioned by others, must give all of us many causes for anxiety. The most recent phase of expansion began promisingly and strengths were increasing, continuing to increase until June last year. But since then there seems to have been a dangerous decline which has now brought us below the point where this phase started. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister shares this concern, and we shall all be interested to hear his analysis of the causes of this lack of success.
From my experience as honorary colonel of a London volunteer battalion for more years than I dare admit, I rashly put forward one or two possible explanations. The first is the obvious truism that society is changing very rapidly and possibly the slightly less obvious truism that the pace of change is continually accelerating. It may often be difficult to resist the temptation to look at the recruiting problems of the 1980s through the eyes of the 1960s and 1970s and in that way to miss a significant change in public attitude both to public service in general and to Her Majesty's forces in particular.
My noble friend and others have mentioned the very real need for active employer support for the reserves. Tacit acquiescence is not enough. I think we all understand, as he pointed out very graphically, the problems of employers, particularly small employers. I very much hope, with my noble friend, that such public-spirited employers could somehow be rewarded for what they do.
I hope meanwhile that they will not lose sight of what seem to me two very relevant considerations. The first is that, apart from Luxembourg, Great Britain is the only other European NATO member without conscription; and, secondly, that the financial burden of a non-volunteer reserve would fall very heavily on all employers as well as on everyone else. Meanwhile employers can observe—and I think a great many have done so—the profound effect of a year or two in the volunteer services or even at a single annual camp on young men. I have seen a great deal of evidence of it, and the broader, more experienced outlook of past and serving volunteers must be an asset for many employers.
1484 A third factor which I think makes the going harder now is the naturally diminished perception among employers when getting on for two generations divide us from the Second World War and certainly a full generation from the end of National Service.
The committee of my old friend Mr. Macpherson has received a very warm welcome. He is, as so many of us know, a man of great energy and of great experience both of industry and of the territorial army. I cannot think of anyone who is better fitted to give the new impetus which is so much needed in the cause we are discussing tonight.
The most important question is whether the territorial army as a whole can be given enough strength to carry out all the responsibilities assigned to it. With regard to equipment, as noble Lords have already said, I hope other commanding officers have had as little cause for complaint as the volunteer commanding officer of my battalion, but I have little doubt that they share his great anxieties about recruitment. I wonder whether my noble friend when he replies can tell us whether he thinks it might be time for the Government to look again at some of the recruiting handicaps which the territorial army faces. Unlike the regular army, as noble Lords know well, the commanding officers of territorial units are responsible for recruiting their own men.
Certainly the territorial associations provide welcome funds for local recruiting. National advertising is run for the territorial army, and from that individual units pick up recruits. I hope that my noble friend will enlighten me as to the cost-effectiveness of that expenditure. Do the Government consider it to be an effective use of resources?
While the regular army is practically fully recruited with nine-tenths of the available advertising budget, the territorial army's percentage of recruitment is a great deal lower as a result of the remaining one-tenth. Therefore, I wonder whether there is not a strong case for a redistribution of the funds available for marketing the army in order to attack the key areas of greatest need.
I hope that I have not taken too long, and I also hope that I need hardly ask this question. Will the Minister repeat loud and clear the Government's complete confidence in the future of the territorial army? I do not believe that anything can do more for its future than the renewed knowledge that the Government still see it as essential and are willing to take all further steps necessary to secure its success.
§ 11.42 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the speech of the noble Viscount who introduced the Question. I can happily associate my noble friend and myself with every point that he made. We are grateful to him for raising this important issue at the present time.
We can also associate ourselves with the tribute he paid to those who give up their time as volunteers in this important and national service. As other noble Lords have said, this is a particularly important subject for a country which has no conscription. With a smaller, highly-professional and highly-trained army, the need for effective reserves is much greater 1485 than it otherwise would be. We have the striking figure of 40 per cent. of our mobilised men being reserves in 1990. That is a remarkable figure for the territorial army.
I can compete in intimate knowledge of the territorial army with the three previous speakers. They all have intimate and recent experience of its achievements and problems. I must confess that my experience of the territorial army is 49 years old. I served in the first territorial unit to land in France in September 1939. I was drawn into that position not because I had military training; I had none at all. I was drawn in because, unlike my fellow rankers, I had a driving licence.
I became what was known as a GPO (Ack). That is to say, I assisted the gun position officer in siting and firing a troop of field guns. If the officer was a casualty I sited and directed the fire of the guns by myself. However, it was only after six months on the Belgian frontier when we were taken to a firing range that for the first time in my life I was present when a field gun was fired. Happily, that degree of military training is gone for ever. If I feel a little more sanguine about the territorial army and the army reserves of today than the admirable speakers who have made their views plain, it is because, with all the difficulties of recruitment and wastage, we in this country, have remarkably well-trained and well-qualified reserves at the present time.
We very much look forward to the statement of the Minister. We want to know why there is this wastage. A number of possible explanations have been given by various speakers. It is very important that we should know and it is a matter which can be established. There seems to be more wastage than recruitment; that is the problem. What are the Government doing to prevent that wastage?
On these Benches, whether as the SLD, the Alliance or the Liberal Party, we have always supported strong reserve forces for this country. As the previous speaker mentioned, we know the importance for Britain's contribution to NATO of having strong conventional forces. We can only have those forces in this country, where we have no conscription, if we have really good reserve forces in support.
§ 11.46 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, as the only naval officer taking part in this debate—I was uncertain about the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, until he told us about his role—it is a privilege to join your Lordships. Having relatively recently acquired the honour of being made a Lord Lieutenant, that has drawn me into close contact with the territorial army. Therefore, I feel that I can join with your Lordships with a slightly outside view. It has also given me the honour of wearing an army-type uniform and I confess that I greatly enjoy the difficulties of getting into it and of coping with the spurs when I am wearing it!
I have been very impressed by the quality of the territorial officers and men and of course by the RNR, with which I have been associated for many years. I do not know the Royal Marines or the RAF reserves so well, but I have no doubt that their quality is as high as that of the other services mentioned.
1486 One point that struck me forcefully when I was new to the business of dealing with the territorials was the very genuine sadness that they felt, particularly among the senior officers, at the sideways shift to weaponry in the Ministry of Defence which happened about a year ago. I told him of that at the time. The Minister of Defence understood them and they understood him much better than many of his predecessors. They knew that he appreciated them and appreciated what they sought to achieve. Although I am sure that he is doing his present job very well, I believe that it is a great pity that he had to be moved.
The problem of recruitment, which has been touched on by many noble Lords, is very real. To be brought up to date one only has to read a serious and informed account of the Falklands war. The expertise of the modern private soldier or able seaman needs to be of a much higher order than 50 years ago. To put hastily trained men into ships as a back-up to the regular complement or into army units as described by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is out of the question. Therefore, we have to have well-trained people with the right attitude to their tasks, with reasonable intelligence, much common sense and a sense of humour. Without those qualities, how could a part-time soldier, sailor or airman put up with the periodic contact with regular servicemen and their officers—particularly the officers—let alone do a modern job?
These people do not grow on trees and are difficult to keep, especially when they get married or are promoted in their civilian jobs. As others have mentioned, however, they have the very qualities for which a sensible employer is always looking. Thus, I, too, welcome the new TA approach, to which many noble Lords have referred, of selling to employers the personal qualities which the army seeks and the training in self reliance and extra competence which the army gives them. It is early days for this new method of persuading employers to release their men for training, but initial reports that I have heard are encouraging. I believe that the other services might do well to follow the same approach, because Mr. Macpherson is dealing only with soldiers.
The subject of deterrence has been mentioned. I must, however, make a point because there is more I wish to say later. Why do we need those reserve forces? With relatively small regular forces we must be able to show any potential enemies that we have the means to augment those forces rapidly with fully trained men and women. They are an essential part of the deterrent. However, I believe that they are more than that; they are extra ambassadors for the high quality of the British armed services in the civilian population. Personal knowledge of that high quality can make the general public more confident that if ever an emergency should occur their defence is more safely assured.
Finally, the benefit to the nation of many modern trained reservists adds to the general steadiness of the population in general. Paradoxically, the high turnover in reservists which so much worries those who are trying to meet the numbers required for battle has the side benefit of creating yet more high calibre people to form part of the community at large. 1487 Therefore, although one would like to keep them— and everyone will try—all is not lost if one does not achieve that aim.
I trust and believe that the Government will continue to encourage in every way possible the continuation and, if practicable, the increase of the reserves of all three services. The hidden benefit to the country is out of all proportion to the cost of so doing. I very much hope that my noble friend, when replying, will be able to confirm the hopes that I have just expressed.
§ 11.52 p.m.
§ Viscount Slim
My Lords, my experience does not perhaps go back as far as that of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, but I also had the honour of serving with the territorial army many years ago. Despite the drastic carve-up of the old territorial army, especially to the detriment of the "teeth arms", I commend the Government for what they are doing and what they are attempting to achieve. They have set themselves fairly tough targets and it will be interesting to see if those can be met.
The noble Lord, Lord Holderness, mentioned that we are the only nation with no conscription. Most people do not want military conscription. However, that means that there is a further onus on the government of the day, a much greater responsibility, to ensure that the reservist, the volunteer, is trained to an operational level so that he can be deployed, and deployed to effect, in his task. We already know from the figures that we have that some 30 per cent. do not meet that criterion, though I believe that the percentage is probably a little more than that.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, said, there is still some misunderstanding in the regular side of the army in respect of its responsibilities for the territorial army. Recruits for the regular army and recruits for the territorial army are motivated in slightly different ways; they join for different reasons. There are those in the corridors of Whitehall, both officers and civil servants, who do not understand those reasons, even today. As the noble Viscount said, the army still places slightly more points for an officer commanding a regular regiment than it does for one who commands a TA regiment. If he does not make his regular regiment it is rather a second-class job to go to command a TA regiment.
I believe that the qualities required to command a TA regiment today are in many ways more varied and greater than for a regular regiment. It requires more of a great many skills from the commanding officer. I hope that the army itself and the other reserve forces do something in their training of the regulars occasionally to take their eye off the main threat and to think about the reserves. They better had, because if they are to be in a defence force which is 40 per cent. territorial they must know from where their backing comes.
I believe that the commitment to the territorial army must be seen to come from the highest level in the land, politically speaking. I suggest—and perhaps we on these Benches can suggest—that this is very much an all-party matter if such a situation is possible today. We have the Conservative Party 1488 intent on this subject and we often wonder what other political parties aspiring to government think. I hope that we hear today. It requires a national effort to raise the image of the volunteer.
Perhaps I may become tactical for a moment. Already some of the enemy that we are likely to face have had a good look around this country. Much of our strategic thinking is outside and away from the shores of the United Kingdom. We have units in the territorial army which have great detailed knowledge of their village, their city, their town, the countryside and the coastline. Against the special forces, Speznatz, that the Russians might deploy—and we know that they have had a good look here and there—surely the use of a unit of the territorial or of any of the volunteer reserves inside an area that they know well should be looked upon as a positive contribution and a main task in the defence of the homeland.
I shall not go into the matter further except to say that the training of such a unit, if it is to forgo an overseas trip or something like that, must become really imaginative and to the point. Again I suspect that at the moment certain units are taken out of places that they know and sent on very good jobs overseas. Strange units come into the place they have left in the United Kingdom and they do not know the area or the people.
I would hate any government to be accused of having defence on the cheap, but 40 per cent. of an army for 5 per cent. of the financial vote seems to me to be not bad business. I like good business. Business has to show that it measures up to the task and one is getting the profit that one wants. I have a feeling that if this recruiting figure is not met and if the training is not of an operational standard that can be accepted, the government of the day will be criticised.
When we try to get a man out of a factory, a bank or whatever for his training or to join the territorial army, it is not just the managing director one has to convince. It is down the line, as the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, pointed out. It is down the line with the foreman and the junior manager. All kinds of things may happen. Suddenly output has to be increased. There is a rush job. A chap wants to go on training and join his unit but is told that he cannot go. I commend the Government on the choice of Mr. Tommy Macpherson, a highly decorated and gallant officer in his own right and a man with great knowledge of industry and commerce. It is a good choice but it needs the help of all parties—from trade unions to political parties, management and commerce.
As I see it, the government task is, first, to improve the image of the volunteer and give him the tools to do the job. The army's task is to weld together a regular and a volunteer force; and that is not easy. I put it this way. We have reached the stage of perhaps not yet one army but certainly one family. There is a lot to do yet, and by 1990, to make it one army. I too commend the army because I believe the army will achieve this. Above all, I believe we owe a great debt to the volunteer of today.
§ 12.1 a.m.
My Lords, this has been a useful debate started in robust and constructive fashion by 1489 the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. He was kind enough to refer to a pamphlet about the future of the territorials which I wrote with Philip Goodhart in 1969. It was entitled Twice a Citizen, a phrase suggested to me by the father of the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, on whose staff I was proud to serve. He was good enough to read through the draft of the pamphlet.
I intended to suggest answers to a number of questions. However, I shall put them into headline form and deal only with one matter because that will be tidier. The four quick points that I should like to make are these. It is true to say that the territorial army is short of a number of weapons, one of them a very important one, and of some vehicles. I hope that funds are earmarked to provide those as soon as possible.
Next, the territorial army, particularly the sappers and the signals, could have made a very valuable contribution to dealing with the destruction wrought by the hurricane in October of last year. It was a real emergency. Tens of thousands of people were without telephones, water and electricity for two to three weeks. They certainly could have helped and I am sorry that they were not called out.
Thirdly, is there not a need for a fast track to commissioned rank? Two to three years is the normal time for territorials to serve in the ranks before they are commissioned. A period of six to eight months would be more suitable, particulary in the North of England where there is a serious shortage of officers.
Finally under these headline points, what about the possibility of raising the ceiling for women in the home command battalions of the territorial army? I know that commanding officers can go up to a ceiling of 15 per cent. if they wish to do so but a good many battalions have not taken advantage of this. I do not see why this should be an overall figure in view of the contribution that could be made to the territorial army in policing, catering, medical work, clerking and so on.
My main point concerns wastage. This is linked with recruiting, which has been somewhat disappointing in the past two or three years. Wastage is clearly far too high. In an average year one in three territorials will resign. That is serious. I have four thoughts about it which may be worth considering. It is not a question of overall pay. The territorials are well paid for the jobs they do so well. That would be generally agreed.
My four points are these. First, the Government's refusal to disregard the payment of unemployment for attending camp for 15 days, and, even more niggardly, for failing to disregard the six Saturdays that are included in the minimum number of 27 days' annual training which are regarded as absolutely essential. Two years ago I was told by the Government that disregarding the six Saturdays would cost about £2½ million. That figure came from the DHSS. If camps were to be disregarded as well—and why not?—it would cost them about £5½ million for the territorial army only and, I would guess, about £7 million for all the volunteer forces. That figure, of course, would be 6 or 8 per cent. higher today. At the very least, surely, there should be a complete disregard of the six Saturdays.
But why not disregard camps as well? Lifeboatmen, part-time firemen, those attending 1490 charity or local authority residential 14-day camps are not subject to this earnings rule. It seems, therefore, that we are discriminating quite wrongly against the territorial army. That seems to be unfair and short-sighted. I believe I am right in saying that payments made to firemen, lifeboat crews and auxiliary coastguards are fully disregarded in calculating their entitlement to what was called supplementary benefit. I think that is still the case, and if that is so, frankly I see no justification for it.
Secondly, travelling and training allowance is now included as income; it was previously excluded. I am sure that this is being carefully watched and if anyone is worse off as a result of it, that will be put right.
Thirdly, meals. Can we not abandon the rather ridiculous five-mile rule? When a company is scattered around in three platoons in different places, perhaps 10, 15 or 20 miles apart, as is the case in many parts of the country, they have to get together for company training. One could find that one platoon or maybe two are given a free meal and the third platoon has to pay for it because the men live or are stationed within five miles. That seems to me rather niggardly and unnecessary.
Lastly, reference has already been made by my noble friend Lord Ridley to the very poor condition of some training centres. Earlier promises were made to spruce them up, but this has not been fulfilled. I understand now that it is thought that it may take up to ten years to do this. Surely that is too long a period. I hope that we can be told that funding is available and that this work can be done quicker.
I left out one point which has now been put right, but it is an example of the sort of thing I am talking about. I am talking of pinpricks which all too often draw blood. However, the blunder was surely made a year or two ago when the Government refused to pay the cost of maintaining No. 2 dress. They backed down under very heavy pressure, but that sort of thing is not very easily forgotten.
I keep a keen watch on these things, as we all do, because these attitudes are rather short-sighted and self-defeating. They lead to needless wastage and they must affect recruiting. As this is an evening when a number of noble Lords have reminisced, perhaps I may say that I learnt the lesson about keeping a keen watch in 1945 when I was a regular soldier who had just been through the staff college. My father decided at very short notice not to stand for Lewes and after I was elected there was only one other regular soldier who was elected, Harry Legge-Bourke. He and I both applied for our trousers, only to find that the Army Council had decided that there should be no trousers for Beamish or Legge-Bourke. So if I have a chip on my shoulder, that could be the reason for it. It seemed a little unnecessary after ten years' service.
I have three quick thoughts to conclude, again in headline shape. Why not pay bounty half-yearly instead of yearly? I think this would be popular and much appreciated. Secondly, instead of a three-year engagement, why not have an open one so that as the three years come up one does not force someone in the territorials to decide whether or not to stay on, he is simply engaged for an open period.
Finally, as regards regimental and county pride, which is very strong, could we not move a little 1491 further towards allowing regiments to use their own names? For instance, in the county of Sussex where I live, instead of being the 5th Queens (Royal Sussex), which is I think the regiment's correct name, why not let it be called the 5th Royal Sussex (Queens)? That would make a difference to people although it may sound like quite a small point.
In my noble friend's county of Northumberland I was a fusilier myself although my noble friend was only a hussar. Perhaps I should omit the word "only" which I am sure is out of order. Why not call that regiment the 6th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (Royal Regiment of Fusiliers)? That would just be a matter of putting the name the other way round, and I think it would be appreciated.
I did not intend to make a general criticism of the Government. With other noble Lords, I think that as regards the territorial army the Government should be congratulated on a good job well done. But there is always room for improvement, to take the maximum advantage of the enthusiasm of one of the cheapest, finest and better trained voluntary forces in the world.
§ 12.11 a.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, it is a tribute to my noble friend Lord Ridley that we have had such an excellent, well informed and constructive debate after he laid the foundations of it so well.
My credentials for speaking in this debate are that I was commissioned in the TA 50 years ago and I served throughout the war. But I have to confess that since I was elected to another place in 1945 I have not myself done any further military service, although of course I kept in touch with TA units here and there.
One must resist the temptation of drawing too much on the experience of past war or wars in order to indicate what should happen in future. But we must remember, and it follows from what has been said by my noble friends and others, about our being a country whose military strength and defence is founded so much on the volunteer principle that, but for the territorials in 1914 and in 1939, we could not even have mounted a holding operation on the Continent.
I go so far as to speculate—it is idle historical speculation, I know—that if we had had even greater strength of the kind that we have all been talking about this evening we might possibly have deterred the Kaiser and Hitler. So it is very important that this small country of ours playing its vital part in NATO should have the armed forces that are really required.
Although, as my noble friend's Question states, we need stronger reserve forces, the Government have undoubtedly improved on the situation that they inherited as my noble friend Lord Ridley and others have pointed out. In 1984 that excellent document Territorial Army Expansion 1986–1990 was published. I wish to ask two questions arising from it.
First, was phase 1 as set out in this document successfully completed by the end of 1986, and were the units concerned in that first phase up to establishment? Secondly, how far has phase II got in being implemented, and is it likely to be completed so far as the Government intend and can tell by 1990?
1492 I must say that there is a very great defect on the part of the Government in presenting the facts. But for the help of the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, I would not be in possession of this document. With great difficulty I obtained it only two hours ago from the Printed Paper Office, which denied at first that it had it.
It is time for the Government to say more about the territorial army in the annual Statement of Defence Estimates. It is only by turning to the desultory references in the index of Part I of the statement that one finds out anything about what the TA is doing. There is no overall description of its composition, functions, equipment or commitments. As regards the strength of the TA, that was stated on page 28 of Part II of the statement as being 70,400 men and 7,500 women for 1987.
However, there was no mention of the establishment. One could only find that from a single sheet of paper headed "Ministry of Defence Supplementary Votes for the year ending March 1988", which was published in February of this year. There one finds the maximum numbers to be maintained—not the 70,400 of 1987 but aiming at 87,350 for 1988. As has been said, we are going to be far short of that establishment.
I earnestly suggest that in future the yearly statement on defence should have a special chapter on the TA dealing with its strength, establishment, composition, functions, equipment, commitments and so on, so that we can all know what is being done and so that those who might wish to support their country by joining the TA can know more about it. I should have thought that the first step in any recruiting campaign would be for the Government to do their part effectively.
My mind goes back to when I was at Oxford in the late 1920s and in the senior division of the OTC. It used to be a most valuable source of recruitment of officers. Most of our universities had officer training corps units. I understand that 12 or 15 of our universities now have OTCs. I ask my noble friend to say how they are doing and what their total strength is. The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, referred to the need for technically qualified officers for the armed forces. The universities are the best source of such officers.
Turning to the functions of the territorial army, it is interesting to see what is envisaged. I take a particular interest in what is envisaged for the gunners. In that area one draws on one's memory of the last war. For example, in that war we sent a great many anti-aircraft guns into the desert, assuming that we would be heavily attacked. However, at about the time of Alamein, the Americans came to the Middle East and we had air superiority. Therefore, our antiaircraft guns were not needed for that role. Luckily, they were just mobile and adaptable enough to be used as anti-tank guns. They were so used, and effectively, with armour-piercing ammunition.
One reads in Territorial Army Expansion 1986–1990:We intend to raise a further five Air Defence batteries equipped with the Javelin Guided Missile, increasing the number of TA Air Defence regiments from three to four".That is splendid. I do not know enough about the Javelin guided missile to know whether it can be 1493 adapted to a ground role if it were needed. In other words, flexibility is a great advantage in wartime, as we all found. We should make our plans in peacetime in such a way that there can be some adaptability in wartime.
Meanwhile, it is reassuring to find, as one does in a paragraph in the first part of the Defence Estimates for 1987, that helping local authorities to deal with peacetime emergencies is something that the territorial army has been called upon to do locally. That not only gives its members useful experience in handling their equipment in difficult conditions which they could easily come across in wartime, but it means that our local authority organisation, which is not always adequate for handling emergencies, can be supplemented with such help.
§ 12.22 a.m.
§ Lord Irving of Dartford
My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, for giving us the opportunity to discuss the important subject of our reserves. He will understand, and forgive me, if I cannot congratulate him with the same enthusiasm on the time of day that we are discussing the matter.
I should like to join him in the tribute that he paid to those dedicated people who serve in our reserve forces. Unlike most noble Lords who have spoken, I have had no contact with the territorial army. I, like others of my age, in the spring of 1939 had a choice: I could do six months in the army or join the territorial army for three years. I chose to join the army, little believing at that time that it would not be six months but seven years.
This is the first opportunity since I took over this responsibility I have had of addressing myself to the question of our reserve forces. I looked at the Defence Estimates and the document to which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred, where there is barely a mention, as he said of the territorial army.
I am grateful to the Council of the Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association for the briefing that it has given me. I am bound to say that, having read it all, it leaves me somewhat disturbed.
Responding to the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, I believe that our reserve forces are of an extremely high calibre. They make an extremely effective contribution to our defence. On mobilisation, the territorial army would be a vital part of the reinforcement of BAOR and the defence of Britain. Every support should be given to ensure that it can fulfil the role that it has been given.
The first question was: are there enough? In another place it was said that in 1957 there were 233,177 private soldiers. Ten years later the figure had dropped to 81,500, but by 1987 the number of private soldiers had fallen to 62,000, when we need 86,000. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, there was a programme of expansion, which we welcomed, which was started in 1982. That was to include six Royal Engineer air damage repair squadrons to keep RAF airfields open after conventional attacks and also the conversion of three home defence yeomanry regiments from the infantry to a light reconnaissance role.
The second major phase, which started in 1986, was to provide for the formation of six more infantry 1494 battalions, an armoured reconnaisance squadron, two more Royal Engineer airfield damage repair squadrons, and the first TA helicopter squadron. The Home Service Force was to have an additional 5,000 men. I think that it is in this area where there has been a serious shortfall in recruitment, and this, together with the wastage, has presented us with a quite serious situation at the moment.
I think that the Royal Airforce Reserve programme has done rather better. The numbers have risen to 1,400. However, that is well below the target which was set for it and which it was to achieve by December this year. That was a target of 2,201. In other fields recruitment has been even less encouraging.
As has been said, recruitment is now back to where it was in November 1985. Even under the expansion schemes where the targets were indeed modest, most of them are not to be achieved for several years yet, as in the case of the RNR, the RMR and Home Service Force, and in some cases as far in the future as 1993.
The noble Lord, Lord Holderness, has pointed to the danger of reliance on reserve forces. If 40 per cent. of our total forces are to be reserve forces we had better be sure that we have them. It would be dangerous to rely on them and then find that our total forces were inadequate because of that shortfall. It is planned that the 40 per cent. should be secured by only 5 per cent. of the defence budget. That may well be the reason for the shortfall, because TAVRAs itself points to a number of occasions when money that has been promised has not materialised and further support is necessary. Indeed, some of my colleagues in another place have pointed to the fact that the fall in manpower, not just in the territorial army, may well be due to the concentration of the Government on nuclear forces at the expense of our conventional forces.
The reasons given by TAVRAs for the failure to recruit have been touched on by a number of noble Lords tonight, such as the question of the difficulties of firms being able to give release. I think that there are two problems here. One is the problem of firms themselves and the timing. The other, which has equally been pointed to, is the fact that many middle managers, and perhaps even some senior managers, no longer have any experience of the services at all. I should like to know from the Minister what steps the Government are taking to ensure that understanding is there and support is given. It may be, as some noble Lords have said, that it is necessary to give some incentive to industry to do this. It may be that the rebate on national insurance contributions is one way of securing that co-operation.
There is a decreasing number of young people and, therefore, as TAVRAs says, this provides a much smaller pool of manpower from which to recruit. The question therefore is: if there are difficulties here are the bounties adequate, are incentives enough? It is all very well to say, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, has said, that they are generous, but if they are not producing the manpower are they generous enough? We ought to look into that matter too.
It has also been said by TAVRAs that the DHSS benefit is thought to be one of the difficulties. Some 1495 members of the reserve forces will be worse off under income support as travel allowances are included as income. A person on unemployment benefit loses his benefit when he trains on Saturday. This is regarded by many members serving in the reserve forces as unreasonable. It is alleged that there is some harassment by certain DHSS personnel of some unemployed people. I do not know whether or not that is true, but I hope the noble Lord will ensure that no minor irritants will make it difficult for people who want to serve in the forces, and particularly the territorial army, to do so.
It has been said that there have been other minor irritants, and it has been pointed out that No. 2 dress maintenance allowance was withdrawn. Happily, that has been restored. There has been difficulty over waterproof clothing for the territorial army, although I understand that that is now improving. There has been a reduction of man training days, and there are some very poor training centres. It is believed that by 1990 all the new units will be in accommodation but not in their final accommodation. It is a great pity when there is a new unit that it should have an unsettled period of moving into temporary accommodation instead of beginning to build itself into a home that it can regard as its own and a base from which it can move forward in terms of its training.
I should like to know from the Minister what the progress is in terms of recruitment, what he is proposing to do to stimulate recruitment in respect of the difficulties with industry, and what he can do to take away some of the minor irritants that I have mentioned.
If we are not to have conscription—and I do not think any major party in this country since the war has advocated conscription—it is absoutely vital that our reserve forces are adequate to meet the job they have to do, to provide a supply of trained personnel which can be made ready for any emergency.
I hope that the Minister will have some satisfactory answers to the points raised by most noble Lords this evening and some proposals for dealing with the whole question of recruitment.
§ 12.31 a.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I should like to add my voice to those who have offered thanks to my noble friend for this opportunity to pay tribute to the members of our reserve forces, and in particular to the volunteer reserves, who give so willingly and enthusiastically of their time. They do indeed deserve to be called, to quote what I think were originally Winston Churchill's words, "twice a citizen". They make a vital contribution to the defence of this country and to Europe as a whole. No other country can point to such a proud tradition of volunteer service.
This Government recognise the value of that contribution, and by expanding the reserves and providing the resources necessary to equip them to carry out their essential operational roles have sought to capitalise on their enthusiasm. In 1979 the strength of the territorial army was 59,000. In 1982 we commenced a major expansion programme for the 1496 TA, and its strength has since been increased by more than one-quarter as compared to 1979.
The major new units in this expansion, six infantry battalions and an air defence regiment, have now all been formed and are recruiting. We have also formed a large number of smaller units, including eight airfield damage repair squadrons and an army air corps squadron equipped with Scout helicopters. One further unit which is to be raised is the Royal Engineers squadron which is to be formed on Jersey and paid for by the states as their contribution to the defence of the British Isles, a gesture which will be welcomed on all sides of your Lordships' House. In addition, a home service force has been created and 43 of the planned 47 companies have been formed. There has also been a trial of the concept of a Continental territorial force, involving UK ex-patriots living in Germany.
My noble friend Lord Renton was disappointed that the open government document had not received wider distribution. As I recall it, that document was published in 1984 when I was the junior Minister responsible for those matters. There was a statement in the other place and indeed in your Lordships' House, which I repeated here, explaining about the publication of that document. It was widely available at that time, and I am sorry if its popularity has run them rather short in the Printed Paper Office and that there was difficulty in getting a copy.
The reserves of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are no less important, and although they are smaller in number than those of the Army, they have undergone similar expansion. The Royal Naval Reserve has increased by about 10 per cent. since plans for expansion were announced in 1984 and we envisage a further expansion of more than 35 per cent. from the present level of 5,700 to 7,800 as soon as that can be achieved. The Royal Marine Reserve has increased by 60 per cent—no less—since 1979. The RAF volunteer reserves have increased five-fold since 1979 and now number more than 1,600.
Such a major expansion of the volunteer reserves has, I admit, not been without some difficulty, and the national employer liaison committee was established in 1986 to consider some of these. Many of the committee's recommendations have been implemented, including the recently announced major image-building campaign to which my noble friend and other noble Lords referred. No matter what improvements this Government may introduce for the volunteer reserves, be they in the area of equipment, training or remuneration, we still need to be assured of the maximum level of good will and support from the country's employers. I firmly believe, like my noble friend, that employers who are willing to give this support will reap benefits for their own organisations.
Membership of the reserve forces can develop the qualities of leadership and responsibility, discipline, trade skills, self-confidence and pride, all of which have a direct benefit to both the individual and the employer alike. We have already started to see what may be achieved in this area on a localised level. Here, perhaps I may refer to one example which I hope might be followed elsewhere in the country; namely, the recent very successful reception and presentation for major city employers organised by 1497 the Lord Mayor of London. Given the impetus of the national image campaign, under the professional and energetic guidance of Mr Tommy Macpherson and his committee, I am convinced that the desired levels, of co-operation will be achieved.
One of the areas on which this campaign is expected to have an impact is the unduly high turnover of trained manpower. I do not pretend that this is other than a complex problem and as such must be tackled on a broad basis. Nevertheless, I think that the easing of employer pressures can only be a step in the right direction. In this context, I was interested to note my noble friend's remarks on the financial benefits to be gained from reduced wastage. While injecting a note of caution on the use of figures based on the rather differently organised US National Guard, we should certainly expect to see a significant financial saving accruing from a reduction in wastage. Perhaps of greater importance, however, are the obvious benefits to be gained from the attraction of high quality recruits and a greater return from service.
Of course, recruiting is one area to which we need to pay constant attention. I am sure your Lordships will agree that the television campaign over the past two years has been a great success. While the level of recruits coming in has been satisfactory, last year saw a disappointing outflow, with turnover remaining at about 33 per cent. However, I am pleased to say that this reverse is now showing signs of having been arrested. We are seeing some net monthly increases in the numbers of personnel available.
This general expansion of the reserves reflects the key role that our reserves play in the defence of the United Kingdom and within NATO. The use of the territorial army to reinforce BAOR in time of war is well established. Not only do territorials provide a major proportion of infantry units, making up the best part of an infantry division, they also provide more than 50 per cent. of logistic support and medical personnel and perform a wide variety of tasks from holding vital ground in the forward battle area to the provision of lines of communication in the rear.
TA and home service force personnel also provide a significant part of the ground forces for home defence, a role which may be less glamorous but is no less essential. They would carry out a range of demanding tasks including the provision of reaction forces, reconnaissance and signalling. The home service force would also play its part guarding key points vital to the continuation of the war effort and making full use of their valuable local knowledge.
Turning to our maritime defences, when the RNR has reached its target figure it will provide some 12 per cent. of the RN wartime manpower and will man about 60 per cent. of its wartime mine countermeasures force. It will be responsible for naval control of shipping and the organisation and control of convoys of merchant vessels in war, not just around the United Kingdom but worldwide, to maintain safe passage for our vital imports and exports. It would also provide trained personnel to augment Royal Navy personnel in many war roles.
The Royal Marine Reserve is trained to work alongside regular Royal Marines, should the need arise. Its numbers are being expanded at present and 1498 are expected to increase from 1,300 to 1,580 in the next few years. It will then represent 20 per cent. of the Royal Marines' regular strength on mobilisation.
Within the Royal Air Force one squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment is now operational in an air defence role. The remaining six auxiliary regiment squadrons are field squadrons primarily dedicated to ground defence of airfields. Other auxiliary units and the four RAFVR flights augment the RAF's war capability in a wide variety of roles, ranging, from maritime communications to aerial photographic interpretation. In addition, a Royal Auxiliary Air Force support force is currently under trial. This is similar in concept to the Home Service force and if, as I hope, the trial is successful, it could eventually make a similar contribution to the capabilities of the Royal Air Force.
Other trials are examining the use of reserve aircrew in the flying role. RAFVR personnel have been integrated with regular RAF crews flying VC10 aircraft and as air electronics operators in the Nimrod. This is the first time that volunteer reserves have operated in the flying role since the 1950s. Another trial involves the employment of Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment personnel alongside their regular colleagues in RAF regiment Rapier squadrons. If successful, these trials could lead to a further expansion of reserves in these roles. Of course, to fulfil their operational roles the reserves need not only sufficient manpower but also high quality equipment and realistic and demanding training.
I turn first to equipment. Here too, there has been a substantial improvement in the equipment for the reserve forces. This is particularly marked in the case of the territorial army, which receives not simply old equipment from the regular army but also its share of new equipment. For example, the territorial army has already been equipped with such modern equipment as the Javelin air defence missile and the Milan anti-tank missile, the light gun for artillery units, Fox, Sultan and Spartan vehicles and Clansman radios. Issues of the new SA80 rifle and LAW 80 anti-tank weapon will follow on shortly. In some cases, equipment will be issued to the territorial army before regular army units, depending on the operational role of the units concerned. I know that my noble friend also welcomed the issue of wet weather clothing and sleeping mats, which will start later this year. Noble Lords may also recall that we are conducting a trial of a new design of boot for the armed forces, which I hope we shall be able to issue to the territorials in due course.
The Royal Naval Reserve will equally have benefited from the orders for 12 River class minesweepers and 15 coastal training craft placed by this Government. All the minesweepers are now in service, 11 of them with the RNR, and nine of the patrol craft will be operational with the RNR by this summer. I myself was delighted to have the opportunity recently to spend a day at sea on board HMS "Arun", a very new addition to the RNR minesweeping fleet.
For the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment the most significant equipment enhancement has been the equipping of a seventh squadron, which operates in the air defence role, based at RAF Waddington 1499 with Oerlikon guns directed by Skyguard radar, captured from Argentine forces in 1982. This has provided a valuable and cost-effective enhancement to our air defences. Moreover, like the TA, Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment squadrons have been issued with Clansman radios and will soon begin to take delivery of the SA80 rifle.
Just as vital as equipment is the training that our reserves receive. Reserve forces inevitably face difficulties because of the limited training time available as compared with regulars, so training must be both special to their planned war role and intensive. Considering these limitations, impressive standards of training and professionalism are achieved.
The TA regularly participates in major exercises both for home defence and in the BAOR reinforcement role. These have included Exercise Lionheart in Germany in 1984, Brave Defender in the UK in 1985, and Exercise Keystone in Germany in 1986. They will participate in the series of home defence exercises in the United Kingdom later this year. Employers have been most helpful in releasing volunteers for exercises, and we were particularly grateful for their response in Exercise Lionheart. I take this opportunity to ask them once again to make their employees available for this year's exercises.
I now touch on two other points which have been raised during the course of this debate: first, the problem of the recently introduced disregard for unemployment benefit and the possibility that it might be extended further. I remember well that this was a matter of considerable concern to members in our volunteer reserve forces and I am aware of the feeling that all reservists' earnings should be disregarded or should at least pay for attendance on Saturdays. There are, however, practical difficulties in taking matters further.
A prime requirement for the payment of unemployment benefit is availability for work on each day on which benefit is admissible. Clearly a volunteer carrying out training on a Saturday is not available for work, unlike someone who attends a drill night, for which a disregard has recently been agreed. In addition, pay for a full day would exceed the amount lost in benefit in contract to many employed volunteers who may suffer a net loss of earnings as a result of missed overtime or shift work opportunities. However, I can assure my noble friend that the matter will be kept under continuous review.
I was also asked about the possibility of reserve forces being used in cases of natural disaster, for example, such as the recent hurricane. There are some practical problems, however, in using reserves for these purposes. Formed regular units are best placed to respond quickly in an emergency and will generally have sufficient manpower to provide the necessary assistance. Thus, certainly in the case of the aftermath of the October storms, volunteers may have problems in being released from their employment and limited man-training days are best used for training rather than for those purposes.
Having outlined the many improvements which we have achieved, I have to acknowledge that there are always more demands for resources than we can meet from a finite budget. Difficult decisions on priorities will have to be made which will seem all the more 1500 unpalatable after a period of sustained growth such as we have had over the last few years. Some of these decisions will necessarily affect the reservists. My noble friend is already aware that we have had to cut back a little on the planned expenditure for the refurbishment of some TA centres. But this must be kept in proportion, and will moreover not affect the construction of new TA centres for new units being established under the expansion programme.
We must also continue to look for increased economy and efficiency in all areas. It is more than 20 years since the TA was last reorganised so it is only right that the structure of the TAVRAs and their relationship with the district commands is being reviewed. A study is also being conducted into the university officer training corps, which will examine how this valued link between the armed forces and higher education can be made more efficient and effective. My noble friend Lord Renton asked specifically about them and I will write to him on them.
In conclusion, during my time as a Minister in the Ministry of Defence I have been privileged to visit many reserve units and I have been consistently impressed with what I have seen. More people are volunteering for the reserves, and they are being increasingly well equipped. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the men and women who voluntarily, and indeed enthusiastically, give up their time to train to defend their country. Nor should we forget the many people who support them, employers, TAVR associations and most particularly wives and families. The future security of this country will continue to depend in large measure on the dedication of such people and the Government will ensure that they have the support they need and deserve.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before one o'clock.