Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 8 NOVEMBER 2000
60. I have always thought it bizarre, going
back to the earlier part about actions to form units, because
when I belonged to the TA in infantry battalions, they are best
operated at full unit level. Had we had such a major demand on
reserves and the Territorial Army for Kosovo, such high numbers,
would it not have been prudent to have thought of sending a battalion
as a battalion rather than trickle feeding them into individual
units because we were wanting big numbers? It seems to me a TA
battalion would have been ideal had this situation deteriorated.
(Brigadier Durcan) Yes. The construct of SDR shifted
the centre of gravity of the Territorial Army into combat service
support and the exercise that we went through for Kosovo allowed
us if you like to test the theory of the SDR, and it does work
on paper, although it obviously needs to be practised. The problem
frankly for infantry and yeomanry is that the construct of SDR
does not require those cap badges in formed major units, but they
need to train them in the context of a formed unit in order to
generate individuals. I do not underestimate the difficulty which
is facing the commanding officer of a TA unit. I have to say I
had exactly the same problem commanding my own regular battalion
where the situation that I was in was such that I provided reinforcements
to other people. It is a pretty heartbreaking process but that
was the requirement of the operation.
(Brigadier Holmes) All my instincts as a Territorial
are that the closer you can make what you do on mobilisation resemble
what you do before you mobilise, the better. I entirely understand
the point about the current function of infantry, but there is,
I think, as somebody said, something to be said for looking towards
composite sub-units within units perhaps so that you can keep
as much as you can of the grain of the regimental system and as
much of the bonds of mate-ship as you can that are generated in
peace time. I am confident that we would have done that. Andrew
made the point that it would be useful to test, and indeed it
would, always provided that there is an operational peg which
is strong enough to bear the test. There is a mobilisation culture;
I think the mobilisation culture is far stronger now than it was
a year ago, but we must be quite clear that in order to test the
mobilisation culture there must be a just and sufficient cause
which reservists, their families and their employers will understand
if we ever go to compulsion.
61. Some reservists of course are in Territorial
Army units but some are merely names on a list of reservists.
How much contact do you have with those who are serving on a reserve
unit but are not in the unit?
(Brigadier Holmes) Do you mean regular reservists
or voluntary reservists?
62. Yes, regular reservists.
(Brigadier Durcan) We have rather lost the art of
maintaining contact with these people following the end of the
Cold War. This exercise again pointed out the need to make sure
that we can get this bit right. Although this is actually the
Adjutant General's business, I recall that I think the figure
of contact with the usual part of the regular reserve, and it
is a complex structure, is in the order of 65-70 per cent that
we have regular contact with.
63. What does "regular contact" mean?
(Brigadier Durcan) It means that we send them a letter
once a year and say, "Are you still where you are and are
you still alive?", and if the answer comes back, "Yes",
they get a cheque for £20. If they cash the cheque then we
know that they are there.
64. Bearing in mind that 9,144 regular soldiers
are currently medically downgraded and have been so for more than
four weeks, what medical requirements have you of reserves?
(Brigadier Durcan) The regular reserves, as far as
I know, none. I am afraid I am talking out of my brief here because
this is AG's business, but they are not really required to undertake
any assessment or training during the course of the year and this
of course is an area of some concern about the volume of regular
reservists that we would need to mobilise in order to get down
to the net number that would be capable of doing a job.
65. So the contact level is 65-70 per cent?
That means 30 per cent or so
(Brigadier Durcan) There are various groups of regular
reservists, bearing in mind that some of these regular reservists
are technically only on paper. Army pensioners are regular reservists,
people well into their sixties. Those are not necessarily the
sort of people we want to send to Kosovo.
(Ms Seammen) I wonder, Chairman, if we could send
you a note on this topic because I do recall that we have discussed
it before and the Army was not as assiduous in keeping in touch
with its regular reservists as the other services. I think that
the Chilwell experience is something which we have improved on.
As Andrew says, this is not our direct business and I would like
to be able to send you a note.
66. Could you give us an update because I recall
four or five years ago going through this and finding out how
pathetic the number of contacts there were, and it seems to me
we are in the same old hall, not taking our reserves and reinforcements
seriously. If we needed 55,000 troops pretty damn quickly, and
then turned those over after three months or six months, people
would need to contact them swiftly and process them even more
(Ms Seammen) Absolutely. As Andrew says, with regard
to the TA element of that, of course we know exactly where they
are and we can make some assumptions, Mr Viggers, about those
who are medically unable to be deployed. Again, that is another
thing that we would want to test. In relation to the regular reservists,
that is what Chilwell is supposed to do and, as you say, Chairman,
in passing, the Army has not been as assiduous about it as the
other services. We will give you a note because I do believe that
there has been quite a significant improvement in that respect.
67. On this point, the Committee reported last
year on the Chilwell reserve training and mobilisation centre
and we recommended that its capacity be increased. The response
we got was that there was sufficient capacity at the centre although
they had been examining expansion requirements for the third mobilisation.
Is it proposed in the light of the Kosovo experience, and indeed
in the experience also of running the centre, that it should be
expanded or are there any other alterations to the initial plan?
(Brigadier Durcan) This issue was discussed with the
Army Reserves Committee within the last fortnight. The central
question is, do we want to have individual reservists mobilised
through one place, and the answer is in principle yes, because
it then guarantees a correct standard of professional attention
that this process requires. The next debate is whether we seek
to give them the capacity that they would need to have to deal
with a large scale mobilisation. They are currently structured
to deal with a medium scale of mobilisation and there will be
a resource issue and therefore there is a debate to be had. Again,
this is a matter for the Adjutant-General (Staff) and I know that
the Director of Army Staff Duties has asked for work to be done
to look at the relative costs of expanding it and mothballing
spare capacity to see whether the thing is affordable, but I do
not have figures to hand.
68. It is at the moment only capable of a medium
scale mobilisation, not a large scale one?
(Brigadier Durcan) Yes. There will come a time when
with the scale of subsidy it would not be reasonable to expect
a single centre to be able to cope with it at all. One of the
things we have given some consideration to is whether Chilwell
might not become the defence reserve training mobilisation centre.
At present single services mobilise in different ways in different
places and that works well enough, but certainly there is a case,
not yet resolved, for using Chilwell to mobilise everybody to
go to the Balkans for example, regardless of where they come from.
As I say, it is not resolved, not funded, but certainly being
considered. Chilwell is a very considerable success. If one speaks
to reservists who have got mobilised pre-Chilwell and then been
mobilised through Chilwell, the level of care that they get and
support afterwards is much better. I am delighted with the results
69. When do you expect to get the results of
your review on surge mobilisation, and indeed its capacity review?
(Ms Seammen) Can we send you a note on that? We cannot
speculate at the moment.
70. A lot of the people will be specifically
professionally skilled. Are there facilities in place for them,
because they are professionally skilled, when they are mobilised?
(Brigadier Durcan) At Chilwell?
71. At Chilwell.
(Brigadier Durcan) Yes. And if you have not been I
suggest you visit it. I think you will be very impressed.
72. One final point. Were your initial projected
costs for setting up and running the centre at Chilwell accurate
or has there been any other unexpected additional expenditure?
(Ms Seammen) As far as I know the budget was adhered
to. There was an initial investment of about £5.5 million
and annual operating costs of about four million pounds a year.
73. And that has been adhered to?
(Ms Seammen) I am sure it was well controlled.
74. Were there any problems with the implementation
of Call-out Orders issued in spring this year, in March and April?
As they affected more than 30 airmen perhaps Air Marshal Sudborough
might like to come in on that one too.
(Brigadier Holmes) No, there were not. We have implemented
two Call-out Orders, both of which worked extraordinarily well.
Again, as the Committee will know, what we have done in those
cases is that we have asked for volunteers. When somebody has
volunteered they have then been called out. They are no less called
out, having first volunteered, than they would be had they been
compulsorily called out, so they get all the rights that they
would otherwise have. They have gone perfectly well.
(Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) There were six applications
by employers for exemptions or deferral of call-out. One reservist
had his call-out cancelled when he became medically unfit and
five had their call-outs deferred after discussions between the
Air Force adjudication officer and the reservist employer, and
subsequently all five reservists served on operations.
75. Can we just ask for an up to date figure
for numbers serving and capable? You may want to provide a written
answer for that.
(Brigadier Holmes) I have got 591 soldiers serving
in Bosnia and Kosovo, 256 of those serving in Kosovo.
(Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) Can I add a point of
correction? The figures I gave to Mr Brazier were for the financial
year 1999-2000, so it gives you some idea that we really have
76. So it included March and not April basically?
(Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) Yes, but there is not
77. At the reserves conference that was held
at the RUSI in June there was quite a debate about whether reservists
should be obliged to inform their employers of their volunteer
status and liability. What is your view about this and is it now
(Brigadier Holmes) If I can deal with this one since
it has been one of the major issues at the mobilisation steering
group which I chair, I think there is a general recognition that
in principle reservists ought to inform their employers. It is
a principle for two reasons, firstly, that the chance of an employer's
successful appeal is clearly enhanced if he can go to a tribunal
and say, "I did not know. I have been able to make no alternative
arrangements. I simply did not know this person had a reserve
liability." Secondly, I think it is difficult for us to talk
about a profitable partnership between ourselves and employers
if in a sense it is a partnership in which we are liable to ambush
employers. In principle, and this is a recognition across the
board, employers ought to know. In some cases, for example, in
the case of a civil servant, civil servants are obliged to tell
their employers that they are reservists. The question is how
best to implement this at a time when the reserves have been through
uncertainty and are moving out of it without putting pressure
on serving reservists and presenting them with a crisis of conscience.
What we are considering doing, but I have to say that no definitive
decision has been taken, is to say to reservists that we expect
them to tell their employers and we would expect good reason for
them not doing so. One can think of circumstances like perhaps
Northern Ireland where a reservist might not tell his employer,
but I think we would need to know what those circumstances were.
There might be a smaller number of cases where particular individuals
at particular times did not want to inform their employer. What
we ought not to do is to establish a hard and fast rule until
we know what the consequences of that rule might be. I am guardedly
optimistic that we are within measurable distance of establishing
the general principle that reservists should tell their employers.
78. I am glad you are showing some flexibility.
What would be your reaction, for example, if an employee had reason
to believe that his employer, with whom he got on otherwise very
well, was hostile to the military? Then he might have to choose
between damaging his career or giving up being a reservist.
(Brigadier Holmes) Dr Lewis, I think that would cause
a considerable balancing act. Speaking as a reservist who has
juggled his employment for the last 36 years, yes, of course we
must be very careful not to disadvantage a reservist. On the other
hand, what we need to do is to get as close as we can to some
sort of guaranteed capability from our reserves. What we do not
want to do is to put ourselves in the position where we are expecting
reservists to appear when mobilised only to discover that we cannot
get access to them because their employers lodge an appeal. I
can think of individual cases where at particular times and in
particular circumstances we may not wish to press the issue, and
so of course we should be flexible, but as a general principle
employers are fundamental to the way that we use our reserves
and we must be honest and up front with them.
79. Finally on this, talking of employers, we
have heard about these proposed fact sheets for employers called
"Working for You: Working for Us". How are they coming
along? I have been invited to ask you as well whether there are
any plans to make them available in languages other than English
and Welsh, resources permitting, which I have to assume is because
it may be that some reservists are employed by employers with
a limited command of English or Welsh, although I find that rather
an unlikely prospect.
(Brigadier Holmes) If I could answer the second question
first, not to the best of my knowledge and belief.