Minutes of Meeting of the All Party Group for Reserves and Cadets held on 16th November 2010
Julian Brazier MP Chairman
Bob Ainsworth MP
James Arbuthnot MP
Richard Bacon MP
David Davis MP
Jeffrey Donaldson MP
Mark Francois MP
James Gray MP
Jack Lopresti MP
Sarah Newton MP
Sandra Osbourne MP
Bob Stewart MP
Julian Radcliffe sponsor
Colonel Hugh Purcell Honorary Clerk
Miss Kate Tattersall
General Sir Nicholas Houghton Vice Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS)
Major General Greg Smith ACDS Reserves and Cadets
Commodore Bob Mansergh Head of Reserve Forces and Cadets
Colonel Roddy Lee
Wg Cdr Tim Marley
Major Matt Lewis
Major Matt Munro
Mr Rob Malpass
Chairman’s Opening Remarks
The Chairman welcomed all to the meeting and started with two opening notices:
• Two visits were coming up, the first to 256 Field Hospital on 30th November and the second to the LONDON Regiment on 7th December. All members were invited and he asked that they confirm their attendance to the Clerk. Three doctors from the House had already confirmed they would attend the former.
• The Clerk drew attention to the Armed Forces 20/20 Reserves and Transformation conference to take place at RUSI on 6th December - information was on the RUSI website. Members were to inform the Clerk if they were interested in attending.
The Chairman welcomed General Sir Nicholas Houghton and gave a brief summary of his career. An Oxford man, he commissioned into the Green Howards in 1974, was a member of the Directing Staff at the Royal Military College, Shrivenham and commanded his Regiment before commanding 39 Infantry Brigade in Northern Ireland from 1997 to 1999. He was then Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Operations) and in October 2005 became Chief of Joint Operations at PJHQ. He was appointed VCDS in May 2009.
The Chairman stated that he had invited Sir Nicholas, the VCDS, to address the Group because the Prime Minister had appointed him to lead the Review of the Reserve Forces. The Chairman handed over to VCDS.
VCDS began by stating how delighted he was to have an early opportunity to talk about the conduct of the Reserves Review and that he would be happy to return and update the Group as the Review progressed. He was somewhat wary because the last time he spoke at a dinner in the House, he thought he was speaking on the lead up to the SDSR. However, nearly all the questions after dinner were about the Reserves. He recognised that this could be an emotive issue and so he was not surprised that the Prime Minister had dislocated the matter in time from the outcome of the SDSR itself. This gave some challenges in the conduct of the Review to which he would return, meanwhile, to prove his credibility he was wearing the tie of the Steelbacks, 158 Transport Regiment, Royal Logistic Volunteers, Royal Anglian, whose forebears, he thought, were the Northampton Regiment. They were known as the Steelbacks because of their ability to take punishment in the field and he hoped he would not have to be a ‘Steelback’ tonight.
He was happy to be as inclusive as possible about the Review as it progressed and from a personal perspective he was absolutely open minded on Reserves, there was no preconceived outcome, he had no agenda and nor did he have a formal cost envelope to work within, although money would be a consideration. What he did know was that the Review had a lot of context to it, some probably based on opinion, some on emotion, some on fact, and tonight he wanted to say something about the context in which he was setting the Review and he would like to hear the members’ views.
There would be several phases; initially to establish context and gain ‘buy in’ to the Whole Force Concept, to establish the Defence requirement for the Whole Force Concept, then to examine force generation options, here political guidance would be needed, before implementation guidance was issued. There was a need to recognise the scope for efficiency in the way the Reserves were structured and might be changed. There was also a change in the strategic context that influenced the conduct of the Review and he pointed to three major changes that the Review needed to address. The first challenge was that the strategic security context has changed. We could now afford to have some capabilities in what the SDSR described as ‘extended readiness’ and we needed to test the ability of the Reserves to undertake some of the tasks previously done by Regulars within the context of ‘extended readiness’. Secondly, we needed to employ certain specialist capabilities routinely on stabilisation and prevention operations and he did not think we had fully tapped into the specialist resources that the TA specifically had to offer and more widely the Reserves. Thirdly, we might just need to review the role that the Armed Forces play in domestic resilience and home defence, because the degree that the Armed Forces might have a domestic role in homeland security and resilience had been aired within the National Security Council (NSC), but not properly put to bed.
The second challenge was fiscal, the country could no longer afford large standing armed forces and the Reserves could therefore be part of an overall reduction in the costs of security without prejudicing that security. The PM had already indicated that there were financial challenges to realising the full structure in the SDSR and that it might need revisiting in the light of the outcome of this review.
He thought the third challenge related to the concept of the ‘big society’; he would not pretend to be a specialist but he was aware of a desire on the behalf of government to tap into a natural inclination of society to volunteer and to serve.
He then turned to how these changes might play out and the context of the Review that he had mentioned previously. He re-emphasised that during the preliminary phase he wanted to ensure that people bought into the concept of a whole force, as too often people thought about Regulars and Reserves as quite separate elements, who were occasionally at odds with each other. The Defence Forces were actually composed of multiple elements and within the Reserve, there were the mobilised, non-mobilised, full time and sponsored elements. Within the Regular component there was an element that was not deployable and this component needed to broken down into those elements that could be deployed and those that did not need to deploy and attract allowances that go with positions of service which properly attach to deployable regular services. We should question matters such as pensions, continuity of education allowances and the quartering elements of the regular component dependent on their willingness and ability to deploy. Rather than treat the reserves as an additional thought in terms of defence capability, they should be deemed as part of a ‘whole force concept’; the challenge would be to achieve the right balance between the various sorts of reserve and sorts of component.
The first phase of the study would explore the envelope of how one might alter the balance of the sub-components of the whole force - in the jargon ‘defence outputs’ while maintaining security, operational coherence and achieving better value for money. This phase needed to look closely at other nations’ ideas and how they employed their Reserves, but there was a need for pragmatism about what was achievable and what was fair to ask our Reserves to take on. There would then need to be some political guidance from the people who commissioned the Review to make certain that the sort of reserve force, in terms of its scale and capabilities, was in harmony with the political guidance. The second phase must explore force generation options for the Reservist Component, striking a difficult balance between the MoD’s tendencies to strive for efficiency born of centralisation, with maintenance of a diverse footprint that maintains the local nature of reserve forces. He judged that these options would include centralisation, regionalisation, localisation, and probably some hybrid options, and he sensed that we might end up with a mixture. This phase would also be emotive because it would include estate rationalisation, but also some betterment, and some changes to local affiliation. Here he again thought some political direction would be needed, especially the degree to which the country wanted to pay a premium to maintain the local dimension of reserve forces.
Finally, there would be an implementation plan that could not be all change within 18 months, as this would be unrealistic, particularly in the context of an SDSR that had set a full structure out to 2020. The reservist element, as part of the Whole Force Concept, should be developed towards the 2020 structure, probably through a recalibration in 2015, potentially the time for the next SDSR, and the force generation mechanism he thought would have to be capable of generating a scalable reservist component, not fixed to a particular liability.
He concluded by saying that he thought if properly considered and executed, the Review could be quite fundamental in some of its outcomes. Therefore, it should not be rushed and it definitely needed to spend plenty of time listening along the way. VCDS thanked the Group for giving him the opportunity to speak and said he would welcome questions.
The Chairman opened the discussion by stating that it should now be clear to everyone why the PM chose the VCDS to lead the study.
Question 1 – David Davis asked that in making maximum use of Reservist capabilities, if he saw utility in the use of formed units.
Answer – VCDS replied that in SDSR there were forces deemed to be committed, responsive and adaptive. He did not want to over ‘solutionise’ but within the committed force there were many specialisations that could be used on operations short of intervention, such as stabilisation and prevention or containment type tasks. What he did not think had been done effectively was to dig into the volunteering ethos of the nation to get people to volunteer for those sorts of specialisations that can be used pre-emptively on deployments short of intervention operations. That would be one area where Reserves could be used to better advantage. “We do not want to recruit privates and train them in-house when there are many skill sets out in the community that we could exploit better.” He thought that the very high readiness forces needed to respond to immediate crises would more likely be born of the regular component and that lower readiness, what is now termed extended readiness, was where the question about the extent one might be able to use formed Reserve units or sub-units, was more relevant. He could think of occasions where at sub-unit level formed Reserve units could provide command opportunities. Within the area of extended readiness, he was still in a free play exercise as to what extent one could push the model as a hedge against regeneration; what one might have as a formed unit and under what circumstances it might then deploy as a unit. However, he did not wish to make a judgement until he understood where the tolerances of the whole force construct might lead in terms of overall value for money. However, he thought that with the specialist and within the sub-unit there would patently continue to be the need for the augmentation of the regular component on what one might call routine operations. Regarding Afghan-type operations, he wondered where one should draw the line on the level of formed body because of the complexity of the challenge; there he thought that he would question above sub-unit, but he was open minded as to how the Review would develop this.
Question 2 – Jack Lopresti said that he was lucky to have served as a Reservist on Herrick 9 and he agreed with David Davis’ view about having sub-units at readiness to deploy. If a Reservist joined a regular unit, one he had not trained with or been on exercise with before, a unit that used a different level of equipment with which the Reservist was not familiar, he would spend the first couple of months gelling with them and finding out how they did things before he deployed with that unit. He thought it would be far better if a sub-unit trained with the unit it was affiliated to, went on exercise with them, and then when it came to deployment the training links and understanding had already been established. Another issue about which he had recently spoken to senior officers, was that while the Regular Army controls the TA it would always be very difficult to ensure the TA got the funding needed for training and deployment. He thought this was a big issue.
Answer – Replying, VCDS said he thought that on that last issue the Army certainly learnt a harsh lesson last year when with the in-year savings issue they attempted to cut the pay of the TA. “You wouldn’t turn round to a Regular and say we are a bit low on funds this month, we won’t pay you for a couple of months”. He referred to General Cottam's work on the Strategic Review of Reserves in which he came up with a proposition that if a Reservist signed up for a particular commitment, certain things would be expected from that individual in return for a defined undertaking from the MOD.
VCDS added that he was very aware how difficult it was to retain good quality officers if their only role was to train recruits for force generation with little or no chance of deploying as a formed Reserve unit. He cautioned that it was essential to be aware of, and to understand the complexity of, command on the battlefield and the degree to which it was right to expose Reservists and their commanders to such challenges. He considered that the twinning mechanism would have to be more sophisticated, as it had been random and ad hoc over time, and it was necessary to mature a better synchronised twinning model that would build on the professionalism and familiarity with the parent unit.
The Chairman pointed out to the Committee that VCDS represented the whole of the MoD – “he is purple” - and that he had not been involved in the Army Board’s recommendation to reduce the TA training budget.
Question 3 – Bob Ainsworth asked where the new areas of work, over and above the work done by General Nick Cottam were, which he thought had given a sense of direction. He thought they might be in two areas. One followed naturally from the SDSR where deployability (possibly in formed units) could be achieved and the use of Reserves in company strength in Cyprus was one example. Stabilisation was another that had been considered and these, together with the rationalisation of the estate, were both in the direction of travel, though the latter could be controversial, Nick Cottam had already done a lot of this work. He saw two areas of opportunity as a result of the SDSR; first, that areas of low readiness could potentially be handed over to the Reserves and this he thought was sensible. The other was bigger: the national resilience role that would feed into volunteerism. This, he thought, was potentially the big new area for the Government to explore further because there had been a feeling for some time that the domestic military contribution had been shrinking and had already gone too far. It could not be done for nothing and for it to be worthwhile there would be a big cost but maybe this could be taken away from the Defence budget.
Answer – VCDS thought he was right to identify the first two: greater use of specialisation and the question mark about how much more of the Regular forces could be put into extended readiness. The SDSR had not made any firm conclusions on either the Big Society or domestic resilience. He was aware that Dame Pauline Neville-Jones was part of a group within the NSC that had argued for a greater domestic role for the Reserves, not just a security role but to be part of the civil contingency reaction force. He said this had been tried under a previous government but he was unclear about how successful it had been. He wanted to ensure the full extent of the defence requirement, that the role of the Reserves within it was captured and that domestic resilience and homeland security were not overlooked. He felt there was time to reflect on this and no longer a need to rush this work, as there was no CSR deadline to meet, and these areas were right for consideration by the NSC. Looking out to 2020, and with the opportunity to recalibrate in 2015, together with the stated aspiration of returning the Army from Germany, it might be necessary to make some readjustments within the Whole Force Concept and how the numbers break down between the Regulars and Reservists. In summary, he did not think that the MOD would add more money to the budget to do this but it was how to optimise the mix between Regular and Reserve and how to include the purely domestic dimension.
Question 4 – Mark Lancaster wanted to consider further development of the Specialist Reserves. Taking 101 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), his own unit, as an example, this was now a hybrid unit, being a mix of Regular and Reserve squadrons. The squadrons regularly trained together and were interoperable because they deployed in small teams. He thought this worked well and encouraged integration. Turning to his current unit, the Military Stabilisation and Support Group, he felt that despite it being a highly effective organisation, it was little understood because it did not fit the traditional pattern. He wanted to see a comprehensive approach, greater connection between the MOD and DfID and more flexible use of specialists, particularly in respect of deployment and tour lengths. For the latter it was essential not to put off the Reservist from volunteering for operations but to make it easier to manage this with his main employment. For some, shorter tours would be sufficient to allow them to deliver what was required. As an example, he cited a railway engineer.
Answer – Agreeing with Mark Lancaster, VCDS thought that such flexibility was not within existing legislation. It made eminent sense to make ‘bespoke’ mobilisation and deployment possible within the law and such specialist capability demanded this, particularly in the case of the railway engineer and in stabilisation roles.
Question 5 – James Gray wanted to return to homeland defence and resilience. He felt that the threat to the mainland was huge and that there was a real role for the TA in countering it. This required different skills to those needed for operations in Afghanistan and if the TA was to become a homeland defence force this would have a deleterious effect on morale, manning and recruiting as it would no longer be seen as an attractive role for the TA. He agreed that it was right to consider such a role but cautioned against returning to a ‘Dad’s Army’ view of the TA.
Answer – Voicing his agreement with this sentiment, VCDS said that while it was right to harness the TA’s volunteer ethic, it was also necessary to collect evidence to show the scope and range of roles appropriate for the TA and the Reserves. While they could provide a military guard force for the Olympics, that is not what they would want to be used for. He thought that Military Aid to the Civil Community was often provided by the Regulars as the first responders, though this depended on their location. There would be a role for specialists in response to national disasters and emergencies and to ensure resilience but it was necessary to establish what this might be.
Question 6 – Jeffrey Donaldson asked about centralisation and localisation; the smaller the armed forces became, the smaller the footprint would be. In Northern Ireland, he said, with the reduction in the garrisons, the TA was the only interface with the public as there was no longer any Regular RAF or RN presence. He thought there was now an opportunity within the Review to create an effective footprint across the whole of the UK. The past resistance within the community to the armed forces was changing and the TA was doing a fantastic job in beginning to regain a place within schools and the local communities, but he was concerned about the effect of the reduction in the footprint. He thought it important to establish and maintain the local and regional connections within both the Regular and Reserve components. He cited 1 R IRISH, the Regular battalion, which was now stationed in England and 2 R IRISH, the Reserve battalion, which was the only TA unit in Northern Ireland; there was no longer a Regular unit in the Province that was locally recruited.
Answer – Though VCDS concurred with these sentiments, he repeated the essential need to be able to deliver effective force generation at least cost. Therefore, value for money and the extent and size of the estate were both relevant. He did not want to prejudge the outcome of the balance between retaining the local nature of the force and the premium that such a decision might incur. He accepted that there might be local political pressures to retain the link to society but that that came at an additional cost. He alluded to the inefficiency of the Reserve footprint and the use made of this in the past to affect possible outcomes in the size of the Reserve against maintaining a larger Regular force. He felt that it depended on what was included in the cost models.
In reply, Jeffrey Donaldson accepted that Northern Ireland was small enough to enable more centralisation and that he did not expect to see a TA base in every major town. However, he went on, the loss of a brigade HQ and the likely reduction in the garrison would lead to a significantly reduced Reserve footprint with the risk of virtually nothing remaining.
David Davis interjected that he was odds with centralisation and requested that when VCDS was looking at this, he took specific advice and that he would be happy to provide this advice.
The Chairman thought it would be interesting also to look at the patterns across the UK as there were significant differences between Britain and the three main other English speaking countries. It might be possible to get some lessons from abroad and the Review would make sure at the beginning of the study that it looked hard at other models.
Question 7 – Bob Stewart suggested that if the aim was to make 40% of the Regular forces Reservists as well as 40% of total forces Reservists, this was nearly 50%. Logically then it might be possible to twin and co-locate a Regular unit with a Reserve unit and to swap officers and COs between the two. By extension, this ought to apply equally to ships and the RAF as well as to regiments. “For one with a county regiment background like me,” he said, “that’s a bit heretical.” If efficiency was taken to the ‘nth’ degree this could lead to a corps of infantry, doing away with existing regiments and the current regimental system. He suggested that if the review was to be radical then how to interweave Regulars and Reservists to make them interchangeable was important.
Answer – Replying, VCDS said his remit was not to be radical - the percentages quoted were not his figures, but they might apply to the US or Australia - it was to consider everything that was on the table and to establish both the pros and the cons. He considered that the present regimental structure was not optimal. The overheads associated with overseas garrisons – schooling and quartering in particular – may lead us to reconsider the current position in the light of future needs; hybrid units may well offer a solution here.
In response, Bob Stewart said that with the Army withdrawing from Germany there would be few overseas postings left as both Cyprus and the Falkland Islands only involved short tours. He sensed that a reorganisation of the United Kingdom to provide effective armed forces at maximum efficiency and least cost was what needed to be sought.
Replying, VCDS said the review should be set in a context that envisaged all forces being UK-based to allow an optimum balance to be struck between Regular and Reserve forces, to establish the principles of twinning and the degrees of readiness needed to deliver the right force generation model. This aspiration might take 15 years to achieve. Thus, it would be evolution rather than revolution.
Question 8 – Sarah Newton, though not a Reservist herself, was very supportive of her local TA. Her concern centred not just on local connections but the support for the Reservists’ families. Unlike their Regular counterparts, many are already in remote, rural areas without the same access to the support available to Regular Service personnel. If they were to be taken still further away she feared the impact this might have on the ability to recruit and retain Reservists and the possible effect on their families. She hoped that the Review would consider the welfare and practical support available to Reservists and their families when they return from operations.
Bob Stewart said that if you try to keep a Reserve unit linked to a Regular unit, they could work in very close harmony.
The Chairman said that two or three years ago they had met with the APG on Mental Health and had had a presentation from the King’s College Medical Team who had done quite a lot of work for the MoD. They had reported that the health outcomes for Reservist deploying on operations as individual reinforcements were roughly twice as bad, when compared to Regulars.
Question 9 – Paul Davies reinforced the feeling that the ‘T’ in TA had resonance and that this had not been mentioned; it chimed with Sarah Newton’s point about the importance of community. Much of what the TA did was to represent the Army in the community and it was one of the best ways of keeping in touch with a much smaller Regular force.
Answer – VCDS said he took his point but that it needed to be balanced against the cost of such a footprint, which needed to be understood and the cost of so doing made clear.
Question 10 – Julian Radcliffe said he thought VCDS had mentioned that it might be necessary to draw up certain principles in relation to Reserves that would stand the test of 50 or 100 years in order to make certain that the implementation plan lasted well. He said that the MoD had produced four or five principles in the design of the force in relation to Regular and Reserves and from memory, he thought that one of them was what was now the proposition; so some progress had been made on that. The second was that the country would not go to war without mobilising Reserves, on the same basis that the US government had learned one of the ways to reign in the liberal intervention was to make certain that there was a mobilisation decision. The third was that there should be no part of the armed forces that had no Reserve component and very few parts that should be wholly Reserve or wholly Regular. There were other principles of integration and of the relationship with employers and the development of relationships with employers. He thought that these had never been properly established and nor had they been properly examined in the Cottam Report. He conclude by saying that if Haldane was in your position now he would say if we do not establish those principles politically, militarily and economically, including the cost, then your study will not be the Haldane for the next 50 years.
Answer – VCDS thought that these principles of design were outstanding and that some were more fundamental than he had thought of, so that they deserved consideration to determine the right principles to be followed to achieve the optimum design without straying into some of the more sensitive areas.
Question 11 – Sarah Newton said that in her constituency the cadet force was a really important part of the community and that they were closely linked to the Reserves. She wanted to know if the review would also consider cadets.
Answer – VCDS replied that cadets would not be part of the review as there was a separate study being undertaken into cadets.
Commodore Bob Mansergh (Head of RF&C) added that the Youth Engagement Review, directed by the Youth and Cadet Council in July, had just started and was due to report in October 2011 with an interim report in July. It would look at the whole of the MoD’s engagement with young people through Cadet Forces, the National Citizen Service and other emerging organisations. He added that the Estate aspects would also be examined.
In response to a question on the OTCs, VCDS said that they were the subject of a separate study. He added that the Chairman had mentioned that he thought that the MoD had still to exploit fully the synergies between OTCs and officer retention within the reserve component.
Question 12 – David Davis asked VCDS in respect of other nations’ forces whether the review would consider the range of capabilities of the US forces for which there was no analogy in this country, such as engineer and aid sections and the Green Berets.
Answer – VCDS replied that they would keep an open mind to ensure they did not miss any aspect. He thought that though it would be easy to jump to certain conclusions about what could be discarded, it would be better to devise a British solution measured against the way other countries go about this business.
Question 13 – Bob Stewart said that there were few in the armed forces able to take a long-term view of the future of the forces. More would have to be done for Reserves, yet too often barriers to progress were put in the way. There was insufficient money and the Regular forces were resistant to such change. He wondered if it would be possible to overcome this short-termism to affect the future vision of shared responsibility between the Regulars and the Reserves. He thought that while recruitment was buoyant in the current period of recession, this would not always be the case and that both quality and quantity would become hard to achieve. This demanded that more be done with Reserves.
Answer – VCDS said he could not promise to be able to do that without going back to his political direction. He did not want to be responsible for producing a vulgar, short-term ‘fix’ that only slightly improved the liability of the Reserves, rationalised some of the estate and reduced the Regular manpower bill. If it was purely cost driven it could too easily go that way. Instead, he wanted to consider future trends in society, and the move towards some of the likely outcomes. He wanted to look forward to a time when the Army was wholly repatriated and to some of the circumstances that Committee members had suggested; these then might offer twinning opportunities and other capabilities. The SDSR had concentrated on a 2020 vision so he thought that the Reserves review should also think of a 10-year timeframe in which to bring together the Whole Force Concept. It was possible that to achieve this MoD might have to forgo some of the savings it had hoped to gain from the rationalisation of the estate as well as some that it had hoped to make by withdrawing the regular component of force generation.
Question 14 – Richard Baker asked about the extent to which the country was prepared to pay a premium to retain local links. He had served in the TA; his regiment was the LONDONS, based in London. His Norfolk constituency was very rural and he had recently visited the RAF in Norfolk. He wanted the review to consider the likely deterrent effect that long journeys might have on recruiting and retention.
Answer – VCDS repeated that there would always be a down side to centralisation; there would always be different horses for different courses. He thought that some specialists would be prepared to travel to get the Reserve experience that they wanted and that all of this would be considered.
The Chairman closed the meeting by thanking the VCDS for giving up his time that evening to be with the group.
Colonel (Retd.) Hugh Purcell OBE DL, Honorary Clerk to the APGRF&C.