Select Committee on Defence Eighth Report



Examination of witnesses (Questions 2420 - 2439)

TUESDAY 21 JULY 1998

GENERAL SIR ROGER WHEELER, GCB, CBE, ADC GEN AND MR TREVOR WOOLLEY

  2420. Yes.
  (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 Army?

Chairman

  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?

  2423. Yes.
  (General Sir Roger Wheeler) Yes. I was looking at the—

  Chairman: Sure.

Mr Cohen

  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, for example?
  (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.

Chairman

  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 well follow.

Mr Colvin

  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 differently.

Mr Cohen

  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 way?
  (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 bade.

  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.

Mr Brazier

  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 Germany?
  (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.

Mr Blunt

  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 be so.


 
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