Examination of witnesses (Questions 2420 - 2439)
TUESDAY 21 JULY 1998
GCB, CBE, ADC GEN AND MR
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) We formed a special team
to bring that into effect. As a result of that, we have more than
achieved the target that was originally set for us for the number
of people from ethnic minorities that we recruited in the current
year. I would probably expand the number of teams in order to
continue to penetrate the elements of our society who will not
otherwise know anything about the Army and will not therefore
join. My aim is to achieve a percentage within the Army in the
next five years which is representative of those minority populations
within the country as a whole. So far as complaints are concerned,
we set up a complaints line for not just racial abuse but any
form of abuse and bullying down at Upavon, which does receive
calls and has enabled us to take action.
Mr Cohen: One of the important recruiting
sergeants in a way is like a role model. In the United States,
of course, they had General Colin Powell at the very highest level,
the Chief of Defence Staff. When do you expect we will get soldiers
from the black and ethnic community in high ranks in the British
2421. That is sergeant and above!
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) We have a squadron commander
in an aviation regiment at the moment as an example. There is
a battery commander in a Royal Artillery regiment. That is the
major level of rank. Colin Powell got there at the same pace as
his contempories, and I am afraid it will take the same amount
of time for people to rise as their contempories. Whether those
two majors will rise to higher rank depends on their capabilities.
They are, as it happens, both of them, very able officers and
I would be not at all surprised to see them rise.
2422. We met a brigadier in Frimley Park.
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) A medical man?
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) Yes. I was looking at
2424. Northern Ireland. When Lord Vincent, who
was the former chairman of the Chief of Defence Staff, was before
the Committee, he was surprised at the level of troops that we
were likely to commit to Northern Ireland, and was quoted as saying,
"Maybe we have too much of a comfort factor". What is
the analysis behind the commitment to retain 17,000 troops for
duty in Northern Ireland?
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) I used to work more than
once for Lord Vincent, once as his brigade major, and I might
remind him of how discomforted he was in Northern Ireland when
he was commanding his regiment!
2425. A different situation perhaps.
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) Well, if you look at what
has been going on for the last ten days, I think most of the soldiers
who were there found life very difficult indeed for a period of
time. The number of soldiers we have in Northern Ireland relates
directly to the way in which the Government of the day, as advised
by the Chief Constable, asks for military assistance to counter
both public violence and terrorism. There was a bomb in Newton
Hamilton two weeks ago. There was a failed bomb outside Armagh
a week ago. There has been a variety of mortar attacks which have
failed in and around County Armagh. There have been several incidents
of a terrorist nature in and around Belfast. That is why we maintain
the level we do, to support the RUC.
2426. I appreciate that but we now, of course,
have a peace settlement and we hope it will be a lasting peace
settlement. Surely, in those circumstances, you do not need the
number of troops there were before there was a peace settlement?
What sort of impact do you think the settlement will have on the
Armed Forces levels and the structure there as well?
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) I am delighted about the
settlement, I hope it continues to grow. But there are, as I mentioned,
a number of terrorists in both organisations, on both sides of
the spectrum, who continue to act in the way they do. In order
to protect the population, in order to protect the development
of the peace process, making sure we interdict these people before
they actually blow something up or shoot somebody is a very important
part of the levels we maintain. We put extra troops in specifically
for the Drumcree period, as you know, and we took them out again
as soon as we could, and that perhaps is a model.
2427. I appreciate that security situation,
which is still delicate, and that you have to act against terrorism
if it were to re-emerge, but if the peace settlement were to take
hold, would you envisage significant troop reductions?
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) Yes, I was there as the
GOC in 1994 when we had the first cessation of terrorist operations
and we reduced by three battalions over the course of the next
two years. I would expect something similar to happen when the
Chief Constable and the GOC and the Government are satisfied that
the situation is safe enough to do so.
2428. Part of this whole process is about the
transition from the Army for the security situation to the RUC.
What implications has that transition process got for the Army?
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) I think I would like to
describe it as the Army is in support of the RUC and therefore,
whether it is current operations or a transition period, it is
for the Security Policy Meeting, which is chaired by the Secretary
of State for Northern Ireland, to work out how it is they want
the Army to support the RUC. That is what we are there for.
2429. You would not envisage any increased or
other roles during this transitional period? Training the RUC,
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) We have not got to the
stage where we have looked at that particular transitional situation
yet. All I can say is that we will do our level best to help the
RUC in whatever way they need.
2430. If peace should break out in real terms
and not simply in the agreements which have so far been signed,
is the infantry Treasury-proof? There is no secret deal which
says that if the Army is not required in large numbers that those
overall numbers will be cut? Will they then be absorbed into more
normal Army tasks?
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) First of all, there is
no deal, secret or otherwise. Secondly, we had an expectation
that we might reduce force levels three years ago and found it
not possible to do so. There are a variety of other tasks coming
back into the Army which those battalions which are released might
2431. General, you are aware that our partners
in the Western European Union, particularly with the problems
of Kosova, Albania and the former Yugoslavia in mind, are hell
bent on the creation of paramilitary police forces. When you meet
up with your opposite numbers in Europe, could you do your best
to persuade them that the Army acting in the role that you perform
in Northern Ireland superbly is a better way of assisting local
police forces rather than arming the local police? That action
in support of a civil power is really the best way forward rather
than creating new para-military police forces which can just provoke
completely the wrong sort of reaction from the civil population?
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) We do talk about it when
we meet up, not in the sense that they are forming new units but
there are nations within the WEU who have a tradition of having
a paramilitary force. It is really for them and their national
tradition as to how they do it, but we do talk about how we operate
2432. Just to go back to Northern Ireland: with,
of course, the Assembly in Northern Ireland, would you envisage
perhaps giving evidence to them or talking to them in a public
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) I have no idea what the
arrangements will be for that new Assembly in terms of giving
evidence to something like your Committee. If such an arrangement
is made by the Government then, of course, I shall do as I am
Chairman: We sometimes have great difficulties
in getting ministers from other departments coming to us. So far
we have agreed very much on what is in the SDR, we are now coming
into territory where despite the efforts made by the MoD and the
use of high technology to persuade us to endorse the proposals
in relation to the TA, the MoD has so far failed. As you know,
General, we have the TAVRAs in this afternoon, so we will give
you a little crack at explaining to us why we should sustain our
criticisms. I will ask Mr Brazier to ease us into the question
of the TA but by talking also about the Nuclear, Biological and
Chemical Defence Regiment.
2433. Could I give you a free kick, first of
all, General, by just alluding to an earlier answer you gave and
say that many of us on the Committee greatly welcome the decision
to keep the Queen's Own Yeomanry with its equipment and the configuration
of armoured recce which allows them to retain their equipment
and role. It is very striking visiting both Regular and TA yeomanry
units the extent of the interchange. Just last week at the Reserve
Forces Experience, an ex-Regular officer serving with the Queen's
Own Yeomanry said the fact they have one regiment within the yeomanry
which has all the equipment and has a real role and a sensible
readiness state acts as a shop window for TA yeomanry as a whole,
and many of us on the Committee greatly welcome this decision.
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) Could I just make it,
if I may, absolutely correct? I did not say that the Queen's Own
Yeomanry would stay in their current formation or necessarily
with their current kit by name. What I did say was that the yeomanry
would retain reconnaissance equipment so they could conduct a
role because there is a consultative period which C-in-C Land
is conducting at the moment to decide how best to distribute that
equipment amongst the yeomanry squadrons.
2434. I suppose, too, if the SDR had indicated
a very substantial withdrawal from Germany this would have sent
the wrong signals to our Congressional colleagues, some of whom
might have been quite delighted to have led the charge at substantial
withdrawal. Did you have any feel for that?
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) I do have a feel for the
fact that it is important for the United States to be involved
in NATO and to have substantial weapons bases in Europe in order
to be an effective member of NATO from the military point of view.
If that is the case the fact Britain with the agreement of Nato
and our German allies in particular stations a division in Germany
is a very important part of that balance.
2435. Will there be any employment implications
or unemployment implications for the German workforce attached
to units, in particular (I know it was not in the SDR, the decision
had been made earlier) the withdrawal of the Royal Air Force from
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) I cannot speak for what
happens as a result of the Royal Air Force coming out.
2436. I thought you had jointery.
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) Indeed but that decision
was made by the Airforce and was nothing to do with me or the
SDR. So far as the reduction is concerned we are taking three
armoured regiments out of three yet to be determined bases which
will have a very small effect on the area from which they are
coming in employment terms.
2437. We will write to the RAF but if you can
help us on what you consider the employment implications will
be that would be useful. You commented on Salisbury Plain. What
effect will the withdrawal have on the usage and sustainability
of Salisbury Plain and our United Kingdom training areas? Maybe
you can amplify on what you have said.
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) Inevitably an additional
tank regiment is going to have an effect on both the use of the
dry training area and the live ranges in the United Kingdom. There
are ranges upon which German tanks used to training in Castlemartin
which we will be using because they are no longer used by the
Germans and we shall have to be very careful how we plan our use
of the training areas as a result of bringing particularly the
extra tank regiment back. I do not expect it to have a very dramatic
effect but I would agree it will have some effect.
2438. On what criteria will the decision on
which regiment to withdraw from Germany be taken?
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) I mentioned earlier on
that we do have an arms plot for armoured regiments, as you know,
and we shall look at what that is planning to do at the moment
so that those who have an expectation of moving continue to move
and we do not disrupt those who have no expectation of moving
to too great an extent.
2439. It has been suggested that 1 RTR is going
to be the NBC regiment. Is that correct?
(General Sir Roger Wheeler) It is not correct because
it has not been decided yet. I know people are saying that might