Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 6 DECEMBER 2000
SPELLAR MP AND
20. I am not criticising the regiment; this is
indicative of the problem of recruitment.
(Mr Spellar) But not necessarily general.
There are differences between regiments and we need to learn from
(Air Marshal Pledger) It is patchy across the country,
as you would recognise, Chairman, and that is why we are conducting
many of these out-reach programmes to put the Armed Forces back
into the public eye, even if not directly and deliberately recruitment
in themselves, to restore that linkage.
Chairman: Mike Gapes.
21. If I may come back on two points. Firstly,
one issue that was raised with me last week was the general perceptionand
I think it is probably true as well being a general perceptionthat
attitudes to discipline amongst young people have changed, therefore
sometimes some young people find it hard to adjust to the standards
of strictness which are common or were common within the Services.
There were two opinions: some people said that standards were
therefore being reduced, so that fewer people dropped out, and
others said that fewer people were being recruited because standards
were too strict. Both arguments were put to us. I would be interested
in your response to that issue.
(Mr Spellar) One of the other arguments
that is often put is that for many youngsters, who have never
had any structure in their lives at all, in fact going into the
Services actually provides structure in their lives for the first
22. Hear, hear.
(Mr Spellar) And it is actually hugely
beneficial. It is really trying to ensure that there is that gateway
there which enables them to go through that. Do you remember,
we had some exchanges across the floor of the Commons about showing
these opportunities to youngsters who had been convicted of relatively
minor offences and in many cases there was a cross-party view
from a number of colleagues, that in fact taking people through
that gateway and enabling them to benefit from the structure that
the Armed Forces gives to their lives could actually be hugely
beneficial and they could be very good servicemen and women. So
I think we need to look at that. Also, I do not think we should
look at youngsters as being a homogenous group. I think there
is a wide variety of differing views in there. For example, I
am not sure if the Committee have visitedif they have not,
I would encourage them collectively or individually to visit Harrogatewith
the sort of junior training centre there. To meet several hundred900
I think the figure is nowincredibly motivated youngsters
who really are fitting into an army life and benefiting from it.
That is just one example and I am sure as you have gone round
you have also been impressed with the quality of many of the youngsters.
So there is not actually a homogenous population out there which
is all of one view. There have been changes and some of those
in many ways mirror some of our requirements as well. For example,
the trend towards being involved with computers and so on is not
just something that is happening in the civilian world. It also
is a huge requirement within modern armed forces now. That is
quite a different attitude but we need to shape than then within
a military environment as well.
23. Is it possible, as you need those people
with those computer skills and those technological literacy skills,
that you will need to adapt your methods of recruitment, to make
them more suitable for people with those skills, who might find
the traditional training and induction more difficult?
(Mr Spellar) That is one of the reasons
why, as I said earlier, we have actually brought in an extremely
professional website, and, indeed, a very considerable number
of youngsters are actually accessing the recruitment system via
the Internet and making their first inquiries, even making their
initial application. Obviously we then have to see the applicant
in order to assess their suitability, but a lot of that initial
work now is operating through that. We have to look at that to
see how we balance the investment we make in that sort of area
compared, for example, with the traditional shop front, and that
has to be a continual evaluation, because my recollection isand
either somebody will correct me or I will send you a note on thiswe
were moving up to a figure where something like one-third of initial
expressions of interest which were actually moving into recruitment
were started via the Internet.
(Air Marshal Pledger) You started by specifically
mentioning discipline and attitudes to discipline. One of the
things we have done very carefully recently is to re-establish
the need for that discipline and that structure within an armed
Service and therefore we are able to convince these individuals
through training programmes that this is not just because the
Armed Forces has a disciplinary code and process, it is there
by virtue of need in its employment terms. Each of the services
has then reproduced and justified that kind of environment to
each of their people. So we have re-established the need and then
trained people and will apply it. We are not reducing the standards
where they are necessary.
24. Will you leave those papers behind?
(Air Marshal Pledger) If you want.
Chairman: And more, if you like!
25. You specifically mentioned earlier ethnic
minority recruitment and we know that you are putting a substantial
amount of money and resources into that area. In fact, we were
told that 11.5% of the RAF's annual recruiting budget was spent
on ethnic minorities, which is a very much higher percentage than
the return you are getting for the RAF, which is 1.5% according
to the latest figures. Do you think that those figures are disappointing,
given that, at the current rate of progress, it is going to take
30 years to reach the target of 5% which you intended to reach
(Mr Spellar) I think our hope is that
this process will actually be cumulative. That is that as we get
an increasing number of youngsters in from the community who then
are starting good careers and enjoying service life, and then
actually they will be going back into the community and encouraging
others to join and in factthough in many cases they would
hate this descriptionactually being role models in this
regard. You are absolutely right, we are spending quite a bit
in a wide variety of initiatives, but certainly from my experience
the most effective recruiters in this are young men and women
from the Services, from the communities, who are actually going
back and describing their own careers and their own experiences.
They are an extremely good group, but we do not expect this to
happen overnight. We are also working very considerably, as I
described earlier, on influencing the broader communities, particularly
families, again in order to encourage them to see Service careers
with the huge range of opportunities that there are, particularly
for training and qualificationswhich is a matter of considerable
interest and concern to many of the communitiesactually
encouraging them to see the Armed Forces as a way also of fulfilling
those aspirations as well. We are working very closely with the
relevant media on this area. Obviously we would prefer it if we
were going further and faster but we are seeing progress in an
upward direction. We believe that this is a worthwhile investment,
not least because we require the widest possible range of potential
recruits for us to be able actually to fulfil our obligations
of providing the forces that are capable of meeting the country's
26. You referred earlier, Minister, to a recruiting
initiative in my constituency, which I attended. There was a very
good team there at the Temple. It seemed a little incongruous,
but the Army was invited. A Brigadier was there, he made an excellent
speech, a Sikh Major, who could show that there are Sikhs in the
Army. In a session afterwards, over tea and samosas, the issue
for young men was the turban. They were shown the leaflet on cultural
guidance, which seems quite complicated. There are 10 to 15 lines,
which I could not completely understand, and the questions were
not really answered by this document. I wonder whether you could
send to us any of the research that has been undertaken on how
you reconcile religious beliefs with military requirements and
with health and safety requirements. I was very much involvedI
think it was a little before you entered Parliamentin the
campaign on Sikh motorcyclists being allowed not to wear helmets.
It would be interesting to see whether it is possible to be even
more flexible than this document lays down. I can understand why
if you wish to be a fighter pilot: then you cannot really fit
the headgear over the turban. But it seems to me it is not beyond
the remit of DERA (if they are still at your disposal 12 months
from now) to design some form of headgear that would be consistent
with turbans. I would not expect an answer now, but if it was
possible to give us information on what research has been done
on exploring the synthesis of these two approaches. Certainly,
although this document is very helpful, it does raise far more
questions than are able to be provided for in a short paragraph.
(Mr Spellar) We will certainly write
We have been looking at this in some considerable depth and I
do accept that there is this question from the communitysave
to say that my experience is that when I go to a Sikh wedding
I am in the minority in having a beard and in the majority in
not wearing a turban. There is a considerable section of the community
who do not actually follow all of those tenets of the faith. We
want to appeal to them as well but we do fully acknowledge the
difficulties and we have been working on them and I will be happy
to send you some paperwork on that.
Chairman: Thank you so much. Julian Lewis,
27. Overstretch, Minister. The Committee has
been told that personnel in all three Services feel that they
are being asked to do too much and spend too much time away from
home. We have got a change in the orientation of the Armed Forces
from a predictable Cold War stand-off to an unpredictable expeditionary
pattern of deployment, and, if the EU-led force goes ahead as
well, we can predict even more deployments which will not be easily
anticipated. If we are going to see a sustained pattern of higher
operational tempo of this sort, do we simply need to have more
people in the Services? Have we in fact underestimated the implications
of having a more active foreign policy commitment to being a "force
for good" within the world?
(Mr Spellar) I think there are a number
of issues wrapped up within that. One is obviously the sort of
tempo of operations and the level of commitment. There has actually
been a quite substantial move back on that. At the height of Kosovo
we were up to some 47% cent; the figures now for the Army are
some 22% committed to operations and 15% currently deployed. But
I also take your point about questions of predictability. In a
lot of cases there is more acceptance of the unpredictability
caused by external events compared with the unpredictability sometimes
caused by administrative decisions. One of the areas that the
Services are working hard at is to try and avoid, for example,
if someone is being posted back to the United Kingdom, them then,
quite unpredictably, being sent on to another duty, maybe even
within the United Kingdom but in another area. I think that particularly
impacts on those who have families and therefore are trying to
plan family events and holidays and so on. In many cases those
are more greatly resented than if they actually have to be engaged
in a military operation for which there is a sort of comprehensible
understanding of the reasons for it. It is also fair to say that
we have made some improvements in reducing commitment levels.
Average tour intervals in the Army have improved, and, while in
some specialist areas these remain at around 12 months, our latest
assessment of the average time between unit tours across the Army
for this year is around 30 months, which is about the best figure
for at least five years. So there is some level of improvement.
Another area we do need to look at is in specialist areas. For
example, with Signals, we have contracted some work to contractors
in Bosnia which has enabled us to relieve some of the pressure
on Signals. We also need to be alert where we are contracting
work out that we are not actually removing all domestic billets
that are available which enables some degree of harmony in people's
lives as well. We have to get that balance right as well and build
that into our equations. So, yes, we are alert to the difficulties,
but I would also say to the Committee one of the reasons that
people join the Armed Forces is actually to be engaged in military
activity and people's response to some of this, apart from the
unpredictability, is quite often also related to where they are
in their cycle of life. For many youngsters who I meet, actually
being engaged on operations is what they joined the Army forand
as much of it as they can getbut slightly later in life
they want a more balanced approach. We have to look at how we
can accommodate that as best we can, but at the same time as delivering
that military output.
28. I accept that you are taking all these steps
to improve the situation, but the hard facts on the ground are
that personnel still cite to us overstretch and its effect on
their personal lives as the worst aspect of Service life. It is
certainly the case that it is often spouses who put pressure on
personnel to leave the Services, so I entirely agree with the
last point that you were making in your reply to my earlier question.
But, for all the efforts that you are making to reduce the level
of overstretch and the halving, for example, of the Army's commitments
from the peak of mid-1999, nevertheless people are telling us
that the improvement in quality of life that this should bring
is not being felt by the personnel and that this is one of the
reasons why they are leaving the Services. So why is it, do you
think, that even though you are trying to reduce commitment, whilst
accepting that the new role of the Forces may mean that others
may crop up rapidly and unexpectedly, that still people are not
feeling the benefit of this reduction that you have been trying
to put into place?
(Mr Spellar) I think some are and some
are not and it all depends on which individuals you are talking
with. I think also there have been changes in aspirations of families
in this regard and, as generally in the population, a much higher
percentage of people in the work force. A subsequent change which
has also taken place is that many more women are looking to have
careers rather than jobs and therefore finding, particularly if
they find they are being moved, that that causes career breaks
which they find very disrupting, rather than if they were just
slotting between one job and another. This is an area that the
Army in particular is sensitive. It is less a problem, for reasons
you will understand, with the Navy, who tend to be based on one
or two major ports. It is a case of looking at if people can be
spending longer periods in one location and how you would balance
that. These are considerations that as a result of people's life
patterns changing the Services are looking at whether and how
they could accommodate those in the pattern of service life as
29. May I give you one positive suggestion that
was made to usand this relates to the additional leave
that is granted when personnel return from an operational tour.
As we understand it, this amounts to 20 days over and above the
normal leave allowance. However, the point that is being made
to us is that leave can only be taken if your unit can spare you.
Therefore it has been suggested that, because it is difficult
to use up some of the entitlements that you could have the benefit
of, personnel should be permitted to sell back unused leave dates
to the services as is done in other countries. How do you react
(Mr Spellar) That sounds a bit like in
the building industry, when people, when we tried to give them
holidays, then said, "Yes, but we want to insist on our right
to work." We said, "Well, actually this is the reason
why we negotiated, so you could actually have some time for relaxation
and going away with your family rather than accumulating some
30. It is not quite the same if their unit will
not spare them.
(Mr Spellar) But if the purpose of the
additional leave is to recognise the impact that operational tempo
has on families, and if therefore we are trying to ensure that
families can actually spend sufficient time together to balance
out those family commitments, then I do not believe that money
just solves that and therefore we should be looking at the other
side of the equation and if we have those problems therefore we
should be addressing them rather than establishing that further
practice that you are describing. We will look at it, but
31. I will not pursue this too much further,
but surely the point is that this problem arises when perhaps
people would like to take the leave on return, they have been
told they are entitled to the leave, but their unit cannot spare
(Mr Spellar) I am saying, remembering
we already deal to some extent on the financial side, with the
additional allowances that we brought in, we need to look at the
individual examples to see if that is working actually against
the broader policy.
(Air Marshal Pledger) We do annually provide for the
Armed Forces Pay Review Body a survey of leave taken and clearly
that shows that in the majority of instances leave is being taken
for the purpose for which it was granted. There will doubtless
be occasions and inviduals who will quote that that was not practicable
in their particular instances but I believe that they are in the
exception rather than in the majority and the reports tend to
support that. We have to make this work for its purpose, which
is to restore that relationship with the family.
32. I know Mr Gapes wants to come in, so I will
just ask one more time. Are you absolutely satisfied that our
targets are correct for the Services, given either the operational
tempo which is expected as a result in the change from a static
strategy to an expeditionary strategy and given the extra commitment
that may result from an EU-led Rapid Reaction Force. Are our targets
(Mr Spellar) The belief of the Services
following the SDR is that those targets are adequate. When we
reach those targets then we will assess that.
Chairman: Mr Gapes.
33. Can I take you back to this point about leave.
This comes from discussions at Collingwood last week. It was put
to us very forcibly that maintenance alongside ships often coincides
with leave periods and, as a result, people like engineers would
be busy at sea and then required to do the maintenance on the
ship and therefore not able to take the leave, even though they
have been given additional leave by virtue of the work they have
been doing before. That is a real gripe that they have.
(Mr Spellar) OK.
34. If you are just going to say, "Well,
they cannot sell all this extra leave back," then they feel,
"Why have we been given it? It is meaningless."
(Air Marshal Pledger) Absolutely.
(Mr Spellar) We will have a look at that.
35. What are the complications in working hours?
How many hours a week do different units/Services work? I would
not expect a figure of 43 hoursI am sure it is more complicated
than thatbut if there is such documentation, with all its
complications, perhaps you would be so kind as to send it.
(Mr Spellar) We will write to you on
36. It seems to me that, if we were invaded on
a Saturday morning, we would be in dire straits, but there is
emerging a culture of: "Well, the weekend is ours."
I was rather less worried about often the pressures put on people
if they do have the luxury of travelling back to their homes.
Air Marshal Pledger does not seem to agree with that, but that
is certainly the impression I have gained from talking to servicemen
and women. I would be interested to see what the hours worked
(Mr Spellar) Yes.
37. The last government received an amount from
Nomura, £1,662 billion. Was it good value for us, for the
Services, for the Treasury, for Nomura. If you were Minister at
that time, would you have negotiated that figure?
(Mr Spellar) I think I am on record as
to my views of the deal at that time. The problem we face as an
incoming government was that that money had gone. It had been
pocketed by the Treasury under the previous administration and
we have to deal with the consequence of that. I am not in that
sense being critical of Annington for the management of
38. Nomura, please. Let us get to the heart of
(Mr Spellar) Of the management of the
estate, but I am criticalas indeed Committees of this House
have beenof the financial arrangements that were arrived
at at that time. What we have to look at is the consequences or
downstream effects on not just family quarters but also, what
is sometimes neglected, single living accommodation. Although
that was not included in the sale, it is still a matter of some
concern to us, particularly with reference to previous exchanges
on trained personnel who have been in the Services for a reasonable
number of years, in whom we have put a fairly substantial investment
and who also have a degree of experience and frankly require higher
standards of accommodation than we provide. We also provide some
accommodation that is, frankly, dreadfulmarginally mitigated
by not charging people for this, but still we believe unacceptable.
Ministers are engaged in some fairly intense dialogue in the Department
at the moment as to how we can bring forward a programme for rectifying
this. That is partly about money but it is also very much about
using best modern techniques for actually constructing a lot of
this because in the private sector there is an awful lot of industrialised
building taking place of accommodation units and we need to learn
and to spread best practice on that.
39. In Tidworth we saw some spectacularly good
accommodation. It was phenomenally goodto such an extent
that apparently people are driving in and looking around to see
where the agent is who is putting the houses up. They are spectacularly
good. Then we saw, a mile or so away, something you do not even
have in my constituencyand the housing there is pretty
awfuland that is coming down. We have seen the best and
the worst. It would be disturbing if the dosh that the MoD received
has now disappeared because a lot of the problems can be dealt
with by a further allocation of money. If the MoD or if the Treasury
has been given the money, it seems rather unfair, if the money
was paid, it has not been properly doled out to improve the quality
and quantity of housing because the completion date for the planned
upgrade of Service family accommodation to grade one was originally
going to be 2003. Now it is going to be 2005. Bearing in mind
how important the accommodation is for retention, is there any
way in which the already strapped MOD budget, or, as the Treasury
is in now National Lottery mode, is there any way in which the
money can be taken back from the Treasury which they received
in 1996 to help speed up the process of upgrading accommodation?
Because, when people hear it has been delayed even furtherand
you know how important accommodation isit does seem a little
unfair. I wonder whether there is any flexibility in the system
to speed up the very, very good work, the very good work, that
is being done on improving housing accommodation.
(Mr Spellar) I fully understand the Committee's
feelings on this, they are ones that Ministers share. The slippage
from 2003 to 2005, I should point out, was as a result of an underestimate
at the time of the sale as to the scope of the problem. My impression
is that this was very much a back-of-the-envelope calculation,
which subsequent rigorous analysis showed to be a serious underestimate.
That is reflected in the programme extending through to 2005.
There are considerable amounts of money being spent. On the upgrade
for 2000/2001 £61 million is being spent, apart from the
maintenance and also some of the new buildings under PFI. That
still does not detract from the fact that a lot more needs to
be done. Part of the area of difficulty is that we could get a
lot more immediately satisfied customers by spending money on
more minor modifications, for example on category 2 property bringing
it up to category 1. However, and I think quite reasonably, the
Services have taken a policy of doing the worst first. Some of
the absolute worst is being either demolished or being transferred
to Annington for subsequent refurbishment and resale. Some people
are living in unacceptable conditions. The only caveat I would
put on all this is not with regard to that programme but obviously,
as the Committee is aware, and we are aware as well, that this
programme covers the properties within the United Kingdom. We
should not be forgetting our properties in Germany and Cyprus
as well. Gibraltar is another location, where some work is being
done. Some of the new properties I have seen are extremely good,
not only good but well designed and well thought out for the requirement
of Service personnel. We still have some very unsatisfactory property
in those areas as well.
Chairman: On the single living accommodation,
as you know, and you said, it is probably worse than family accommodation.
Could you just amplify slightly on what you are doing to ensure
that adequate funds are devoted to the upgrade of single living
accommodation? Often people tend to think, "They are just
young squaddies, they are used to living in pretty awful accommodation".
That may be true five or ten years ago but they are entitled to
decent accommodation. We saw some fairly good accommodation and
we saw some pretty lousy accommodation.
1 See Appendx 9. Back
See Appendix 9. Back