Minutes of the All Party Group for Reserve Forces meeting 30th October 2009
Bill Rammell MP (Minister for the Armed Forces)
Major General Simon Lalor (ACDS R & C)
Commodore Alistair Halliday RN (Head of Reserve Force & Cadets)
Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP
Julian Brazier MP (Chairing)
Tony Baldry MP
David Crausby MP
Jim Dobbin MP
Mark Francois MP
Linda Gilroy MP
James Gray MP
Gerald Howarth MP
Lindsay Hoyle MP
Mark Lancaster MP
Dr Julian Lewis MP
Lord de Mauley
Dr Andrew Murrison MP
Laura Moffatt MP
Bob Russell MP
Desmond Swayne MP
Sir Peter Viggers MP
Joan Walley MP
Julian Radcliffe (sponsor)
Col. Hugh Purcell
Keith Mans (Air)
Col George Butler (RF&C)
Lt Ric Amorosi RN (RF&C)
Frank Cook MP
Mike Penning MP
Chair Opening Remarks
The Chair welcomed the Minister.
Min AF Opening remarks:
Min AF introduced Major General Simon Lalor and Commodore Alastair Halliday from MoD, stated that he was aware of the work and contribution of the APG and that he wished to continue the good working relationship. He was of the firm view that the TA was making a superb contribution to operations and some 544 were currently serving in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was the main priority and had necessitated the re-prioritization of the Defence Budget, and he set out the main in-year financial pressures on the Army: 1,000 extra regular recruits; exchange rate fluctuations and increased fuel costs. Thus CGS had proposed to balance the budget in-year and had put forward the £20M savings measure.
He reminded the meeting that ministers were responsible for making decisions and they do listen to concerns. Adjustments worth £2.5 million to support 'the TA habit' had been announced that afternoon because ministers had been persuaded of the need for some degree of continuity. Thus, every Reservist (TA) would have one paid training evening per month and this would not affect the total support needed for those earmarked for deployment.
He updated the meeting on the Reserve Review, saying it was more important than ever, with 46 of the 89 recommendations being taken forward, to feed it into the Green Paper and subsequent Defence Review. He wanted the thoughtful dialogue to continue.
The Chair also welcomed the RF&C team, thanked Min AF for his very frank introduction and said he would group questions in threes.
Questions 1 – 3
Laura Moffatt stated that the APG had formed due to members’ high regard for the TA and reserves and she hoped Min AF would understand the upset at the original proposal. The matter should not become a political football but it was surprising how quickly the announcement had affected units and she asked Min AF what could be done to restore confidence.
Desmond Swayne reminded the Minister of the importance of retaining 'the habit' and that weekend training was more important to the TA than one evening per month. He also made a plea not to forget the OTCs.
Lindsay Hoyle stated that the 1990s policy had failed and asked why repeat it again now. He reminded the Minister that reservists were backfilling roles outside of Afghanistan, and said that the savings measures were ill thought out and the decision was regrettable. He added that what may have appeared to be a big decision was 'really small beer' in terms of the saving.
Min AF agreeing with Laura Moffatt, stated that was why he had made the statement in the House that afternoon and that he would keep the matter under review. However, being very frank, there had been flaws in the communications channels and he had asked for changes to be made as it was unacceptable that the original announcement had first been heard through three newspapers. He assured Desmond Swayne that there would be no more change before April 2010 and that he would reflect before any further decisions were made. He reminded Lindsay Hoyle of the real in-year financial pressures and said that there had been no easy options; Afghanistan remained the priority, which required difficult decisions.
The Chairman asked Min AF to reflect on the critical shortage of young officers and that a number of TA personnel had given up their civilian jobs to lead TA units.
Questions 4 - 6
James Gray stated that many TA leave soon after they have returned from a deployment and removing training would remove the reason for joining. He thought that the measure must therefore be affecting recruitment and that there was a risk that the critical mass would be gone by next April.
Joan Walley asked Min AF to look at the age profile. She said she had met with the Chamber of Commerce in N. Stafford where local employers, who had invested a lot in the TA, were unhappy. She added that Defence needed to be looked at in the round and in more detail; the TA, for example, was fundamental to the Cadets. Other issues were the Bounty that she hoped would be paid; the field hospital in her constituency that had recently returned from Afghanistan must not be undermined; she was also concerned about joint defence centres that served other elements of the local community.
Julian Lewis was astonished that such a 'shrewd operator' had been caught with this measure and he added that the RNR was not immune but had suffered steady cheeseparing rather than a pair of high profile cuts, unlike the TA. He said Afghanistan would continue for years to come and breaking links in the chain made no sense as the next pre-deployment element might not be there.
Min AF replied that he understood the need for young officers, but the processes needed streamlining and this was a matter of ongoing discussions. He said would not duck the criticism of those dependent on a TA income. Even full-time COs would lose money. He reminded James Gray of the pressures on the budget and the need to balance it in-year. He agreed that Joan Moffat's points on employers were very important and that this matter was not just about the TA. He confirmed that the RNR had not been affected in this batch of savings and the Bounty would be protected.
Cdre Halliday confirmed that the Bounty would not be a problem and that all could qualify, doing less days with some of them unpaid. Min AF agreed to provide a confirmatory note. (Now overtaken by subsequent events)
Questions 7 – 9
Linda Gilroy stated that the ‘TA habit’ was very important, as there were many other distractions in Plymouth and there were other areas to find savings. She added that some 28% of the strength of a local unit had deployed to either Afghanistan or Iraq and that the measure was not the way to treat them and, she added, that the RNR had been affected as they were now doing TA tasks.
Bob Russell had three distinct TA units, as well as a regular brigade. He hoped that the volunteers would not walk away when the measure was so drastic to save such a paltry amount of money. He believed that Government had got it wrong as over the Gurkhas; that the matter needed to be sorted out early; placing the TA in mothballs for six months would not work and would not be worth “all the agro”.
Rupert de Mauley stated there was no confirmation of funding post-April 2010 and asked how ministers could expect the Reserve to be available for future ‘Herricks’.
Min AF agreed with Laura Moffatt about habit, saying that was why they had responded and moved that day. He reminded Bob Russell that it was always easy to make a case for a small amount of money and regarding Rupert de Mauley’s point, he would be looking at Planning Round 10 measures, but he could not say what might be off limits; meanwhile it was important to send out a message of confidence.
Questions 10 – 12
Tony Baldry stated that he had spent 20 years in the TA; that this treatment of professionals was not new and that CGS was of a mind to ‘ditch the TA’. He believed that for the sake of £20 million, this measure would be damaging electorally and he highlighted the civic role of the yeomanry as an example. The Chairman added that the measure would seriously damage Regular/TA relationships, and that CGS needed to understand this and that TA families would see a substantial cut in their income.
Keith Mans asked if the one thousand extra Regular recruits were affordable in the current budget. He said closer links were needed between Regulars and TA and if it were thought that there was a cheap regular option, the former did not know what they were doing.
Mark Lancaster said TA morale was down, not helped by the Regular Army still being able to go skiing and the TA being told to go home. He stated that the bounty issue needed to be ‘bottomed out’ as there was still much confusion and he believed MATs had been downgraded with only three elements now needing to be completed to qualify. Cdre Halliday responded by stating that better communication was needed, this was a Land Forces lead and regarding MATS, “in specific terms this is accurate”.
Min AF agreed that communications were not working and that the detail must be got out ASAP. He reassured Tony Baldry that pre-deployment training had not been cut back; there was no intention to ‘ditch’ the TA and said that the Conservatives had no better spending plans. He assured him that CGS was conscious of the importance of the Regular/TA relationship and that ministers would continue to scrutinize measures in detail. In answer to Keith Mans, he said that the high level of increase in recruits to the Regular Army and less soldiers leaving had increased in-year cost pressures. Estate disposal had not realized as much money as expected and rising fuel costs and fluctuations in exchange rates had added to the pressures. He reinforced the point that ministers were listening and would keep all of this under review at ministerial level.
Questions 13 – 15
Rupert de Mauley, also a Territorial, raised the matter of the Cottam Report and its seven main recommendations. He thanked the minister for his clear statement, congratulated him on his honesty concerning the TA and said that the consequences would, nevertheless be dire. He added that, although exempted this time, the RNR had also been cut over the past few years and this needed to be looked at holistically.
Bob Russell stated that in peacetime, it would be more difficult to argue against the measure, but as we were now in a war scenario, the APG was united and repeated that ministers should be wary of a re-run of the Gurkha issue. He was also amazed how easily Government could find money when it needed to and that the £20 million should be restored. He believed that exempting work-up training Afghanistan was a red herring and he hoped for a change of heart in the next 48 hours.
James Gray stated that the Army was not fully recruited to establishment and that it was an odd way to run a war when the Government had said it would be fully funded.
Min AF reiterated to Rupert de Mauley that the measure had not affected the RNR, but if he wished to provide a written question, he would respond. The Chair added that the selection of a Regular Officer as CMR had created much upset and raised suspicions. He stated that the £20 million was one of very many £20 millions that had to be juggled and he told James Gray that the increase in inflow and lack of outflow had been miscalculated in-year but there was a plan to fill the establishment. However, despite the amount of money for Defence having gone up over the years, there was still a need to prioritize across the MOD budget.
Questions 16 – 18
Lindsay Hoyle said that One Army was no longer One Army; that the good work to create it had been destroyed and asked where the money for training TA back fillers would come from.
Laura Moffatt was glad the Minister would keep the matter under Review but wanted to know what this meant; who would do this, and who would report to him?
Mark Lancaster raised the matter of hybrid regiments, such as 101 Regiment (EOD), and asked how it would work if half the unit was working hard with the other half told to stay at home and what would be the position of the Commanding Officer, a Territorial on full-time service.
Min AF assured Lindsay Hoyle there would be no cuts to pre-deployment training. He told Laura Moffatt that he and the SofS got regular feedback; it was a day-to-day process and it was high on the political agenda. He thought Mark Lancaster’s point on hybrid units posed an in-year communications challenge. The Chair interjected that communications were not working the other way and that it was the Regulars who were not listening. Min AF replied that CGS was very keen ‘to get it right’. Others thought that funding for Afghanistan had gone wrong and that ministers needed to go back to the Treasury for more money.
Julian Radcliffe added that the General Staff was not Machiavellian, ministers had walked into a minefield, the situation was worse than at any time in history and that the decision to take the measure would be seen as misguided.
The Chair thought that Laura Moffat had asked one of the most important questions of all and Min AF replied that what was happening now needed to inform future decision-making. He acknowledged that Planning Round 10 would be wide ranging and the TA would be a factor; that lessons needed to be learnt and that explanations devoid of spin would be needed to explain the ‘what and the why’ in a timely manner. The proof would be in the pudding and he reminded the meeting that the increase in the Contingency Allocation for Afghanisatn from £700 million to £3.5 billion over the past few years had produced excellent new kit. He finished by saying he had tried to be open and candid and that proper monitoring would lead to clear decision making.
The Chair thanked the minister and his team for an open and lively exchange.
Colonel (Retd) Hugh Purcell OBE DL, Honorary Clerk to the APRFG