Select Committee on Defence Sixth Report


National Employers Liaison Committee

37. The CRFCA told us that—

The role of the National Employers Liaison Committee (NELC) is to act as a broker between the MoD and the Reservist in the event of a mobilisation and to promote the role of the Reservist within the local community. Colonel Taylor told us that—

    The RFCA is NELC on the ground effectively, because it is through the associations that all the contact with the employers is managed and maintained.[112]

The NELC is moving forward by issuing factsheets, which are designed to inform the employer of the role of reservists and the part which they play in the defence of the nation. Commodore Pemberton told us that—

    The one thing that was quite clear from where I sat was that both reservists and employers were unaware of their rights and protection under the Reserve Forces Act and a major education process needs to be done, or is being done, as a result.[113]

We have had sight of the draft factsheets for employers, and we welcome this initiative. We look forward to the completion of these pamphlets which will answer, in non-military language, many of the queries raised by employers.

38. However, it is not yet clear that the system is fully functioning. We were told by Colonel Robinson (who is also Chairman of NELC in the West Midlands) that although he and his colleagues were expecting mobilisation of Reservists (during the Kosovo campaign) there had not been any formal instruction from MoD. Provisional plans were being made locally. Colonel Robinson continued—

    We were aware that there would be a problem with employers in the West Midlands if [Reserves were] to be called up.[114]

He highlighted the fact that most businesses require some degree of notice if they are to lose key members of staff, even for a temporary period. The MoD needs to win the trust of employers if they are to release Reservists in the event of an emergency, and employers must be approached early in such situations for trust to be won and maintained.

Call-out Orders

39. The Reserve Forces Act 1996 makes provision for Reservists to be called out for service—under a Call-out Order. We have previously reported on the first three Call-out Orders made under the Act.[115] Two such Orders, both lasting for one year, have been made since our last report. The Ministry of Defence for the first time used section 56(1) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to mobilise members of the Reserve Forces for operations.[116] This section of the Act covers 'Call-out for certain operations'—

    (1) The Secretary of State may make an order authorising the calling out of members of a Reserve Force if it appears to him that it is necessary or desirable to use armed forces—

      (a)  on operations outside the United Kingdom for the protection of life or property; or

      (b)  on operations anywhere in the world for the alleviation of distress or the preservation of life or property in time of disaster or apprehended disaster.[117]

The Call-out Order made in March 2000 was to allow for the mobilisation of troops to support United Nations operations in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Support required by the United Nations was for officers from any service who had experience of peace-keeping, monitoring, public relations, service as liaison officers or movement officers. The UK provided 18 personnel to the UN forces in Sierra Leone and six personnel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is often difficult to fill such posts from the regular forces due to previous commitments and operational tours of regular personnel.[118]

40. The second Order was made on 3 April 2000 under section 54 of the Reserve Forces Act. It renewed permission for the use of Reserve Forces in the support of the operations of NATO in former Yugoslavia and in monitoring operations over the no-fly zones of northern and southern Iraq. In particular, this Call-out Order was to provide trained personnel to make up shortfalls in regular Service manning.[119] The TA provided 282 and 228 TA reservists to Bosnia and Kosovo respectively in January 2000, these figures falling to 146 and 152 by December 2000.[120] During mid-April 2000 there were 60 reservists participating in operations over the no-fly zones—the majority of whom were from RAuxAF and RAF Reserves.[121]

41. In our Sixth Report of Session 1998-99 we noted that, although the strength of the TA was slowly being reduced in line with the plans of the SDR, the size of the UK's commitment to peacekeeping operations was growing.[122] In our Report of two years ago, we commented—

    On the whole, the MoD declared itself satisfied with the [Call-out] procedures which they felt were working well. However, it did note that work is still needed in some areas. It is actively encouraging reservists to discuss their impressions of the mobilisation and demobilisation process, if desired, on a confidential basis.[123]

Brigadier Holmes told us that since that Report—

    We have implemented two Call-out Orders, both of which worked extraordinarily well.[124]

We were pleased to see that the Call-out procedures for small-scale mobilisations continue to work so efficiently. However, we also commented in that Report that—

    One aspect of our visit [to the RTMC at Chilwell] gravely concerned us: the evidence we saw that the rate at which Territorials and other volunteer reservists are volunteering for full-time service appears to have drastically fallen. Reserve volunteering as a whole appears to have fallen by a third, but if the regular reservists element (formerly around one third) is excluded, volunteering for full-time service from the volunteer Reserves has almost halved. Part of this is due to the fact that a relatively small pool has been very heavily fished.[125]

The size of the pool of those who volunteer for Call-out on peace support operations may be influenced by the perception of the threat to the UK's national interests that these represent. We know, from our visits to forces in the Balkans, that reservists welcome the opportunity to participate in such operations. But it may be that the pool of people who are enthusiastic to undertake such work is a relatively small proportion of the Reserves. The MoD must continue to monitor the effect of 'overfishing' the volunteer Reserves carefully. We expect a report on their current assessment of the scale of this problem in their response to this Report.

Kosovo and the Threat of Mass Mobilisation

42. In our inquiry into the SDR we noted that—

However the SDR changed this role to make them more versatile. The Reserve Forces have seen an almost total transformation in emphasis since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Traditionally regarded as a defensive force, the new priorities under the SDR were to support the Regular Forces, as both individuals and formed units.[127] During the discussions on the SDR, the MoD considered what size of TA would be required to carry out their new role. The then Minister for the Armed Forces, seeking to defend the decision to cut the TA by around one-third to 42,000 or so, told us that the MoD had concluded that on the strategic planning assumptions underlying the SDR, a Territorial Army of only 7,000 was necessary.[128] We expressed our doubt about the validity of the SDR calculation of the size of the TA, and noted at the time that events had often overturned previous defence reviews and shown how quickly and dramatically planning assumptions can be proved wrong.[129]

43. Operation Allied Force in Kosovo between March and June 1999 showed how near this assumption came to unravelling. General Sir Charles Guthrie, the then Chief of the Defence Staff, told us during our inquiry into the lessons of Kosovo that he came very close to a large scale mobilisation of Reserves. He told us that he "was thinking of 12,000 to 14,000" reservists being called out for an opposed ground invasion had that proved necessary.[130] In written evidence to that inquiry the Ministry of Defence cited a figure of 18,000,[131] comprising 8,786 TA soldiers and 9,250 individual reinforcements to be drawn from Regular reservists or the Territorial Army.[132] We note that the formed units required would have included almost all the remaining TA Royal Engineer units, who took the second largest cuts under the Strategic Defence Review, a fact we deplored in our report on Kosovo.[133] We also note that even to mount the much smaller operation to initiate KFOR, substantial numbers of Territorial Army and Regular Reserve infantry personnel were required to bring units entering Kosovo, such as the Royal Green Jackets, up to strength. Brigadier Holmes told us that the majority of the troops required for a ground attack on Kosovo would have been from the Territorial Army, and "in terms of percentage, well over 90%".[134] These would have been mobilised using compulsory call-out powers.[135] We were told that—

    What we have done since the SDR is that we have asked for volunteers to meet the shortfalls for situations like Bosnia and Kosovo, but this would clearly have taken us beyond that, so there would have been compulsory mobilisation.[136]

44. If the MoD had had to mobilise up to 18,000 reservists it is hard to imagine that it would have been achievable in an orderly and efficient manner using present facilities and procedures. It is clear that the MoD was taken off-guard by the sudden prospect of such a large mobilisation. Brigadier Durcan put it bluntly—

    The problem we had in planning was that we had to do a hell of a lot of work in a hell of a hurry.[137]

As we stated in our Lessons of Kosovo Report of last Session—

    Given the lower readiness states to which many TA units have been reduced, we also suspect that both the TA and reservists would have required considerable pre-deployment training before being ready to be thrust into a war-fighting (forced entry) scenario, all of which would have added to the total time needed to mount the operation.[138]

45. The Reserves Training and Mobilisation Centre (RTMC) at Chetwynd Barracks, Chilwell, near Nottingham, has responsibility for mobilisation of troops. We visited the RTMC in July 1999 and were impressed by the facilities. However, at that time we recommended that its capacity needed to be increased.[139] While the RTMC has been responsible for the successful mobilisation of over 1,400 reservists during 1999/2000 for operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Turkey, Kuwait and the UK,[140] it clearly does not have the facilities for a mobilisation on the scale being planned for Kosovo.

46. The Director of the Reserve Forces and Cadets acknowledged that the RTMC would not have been able to cope with the estimated number of troops required for Kosovo. The RTMC, he told us, would have to have mobilised individual reservists, in both formed unit and formed sub-units within the regional chain of command system.[141] The Chairman of the CRFCA, Colonel Taylor, emphasised that—

    The RTMC would be the model if it was a mass mobilisation and there would have to be satellites around the country in order to handle the numbers because it almost certainly would be rather too much to expect one location to handle everything.[142]

However, on being asked whether he had been consulted about any proposed locations for such satellites, Colonel Taylor, told us he had not.[143] It is surprising, to say the least, that the CRFCA had yet to be consulted on this point when such a large scale mobilisation was being considered on an extremely tight timescale.

47. The MoD witnesses made no attempt to conceal the shock to the system that Kosovo provided. Brigadier Durcan told us—

    The shortcoming ... was that we had rather allowed our eye to go off the ball since the Cold War finished and this gave us a fright. It was a useful fright and what we now intend to do, under the general umbrella I think of promoting a culture of mobilisation, is to exercise and practise this so that we can do a dry run before we have to do a wet run. Next year we have a mobilisation exercise planned into our TA training programme and the intention is to have a mobilisation exercise of a modest scale initially to learn what we can and build it in annually to the TA training call-ups.

Brigadier Holmes also admitted to being taken somewhat on the back foot—

    At my level this was certainly a healthy shock, and it is a shock which we have taken advantage of. I think there is no point in coming as close as we were, however close that might have been, if one does not turn the experience to one's advantage.

He continued—

    What we have done at the centre is to set up a mobilisation steering group, and that group ... involves a plethora of one-star personnel from all services. We have a strategic aim of encouraging planners ... to reflect on the use of Reserves at the higher levels of operational requirement, and to emphasise that this is not simply an issue which concerns single services or indeed the Ministry of Defence, so there is obviously a corporate communications issue here. My ability to mobilise Reserves is going to be affected by local or national support. It is going to be affected by employer support.[144]

Brigadier Durcan concluded—

    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.[145]

48. We applaud the frankness with which our MoD witnesses owned up to the lessons of Kosovo for the use of the TA. We trust our successors will take time to check the MoD's good intentions have been put into practice. Meanwhile, we expect that our successors will be briefed on the results of the mobilisation exercise referred to earlier.

111  Ev p 14 Back

112  Q 120 Back

113  Q 129 Back

114  Q 121 Back

115  Session 1997-98, Fifth Report, The Reserves Call-out Order 1998, Etc., HC 868, Session 1998-99, Sixth Report, The Reserves Call-out Order 1999 and Progress of Territorial Army Restructuring, HC 860 Back

116  This Call-out Order was renewed for one year by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence on 7 March 2001 Back

117  Reserve Forces Act 1996, s.56 Back

118  A further Call-out Order was laid before the House of Commons on 28 March 2001, renewing the Call-out Order for another year Back

119  Ev p 32 Back

120  HC Deb, 15 December 2000, c278w Back

121  Ev p 33 Back

122  Sixth Report, Session 1998-99, The Reserves Call-out Order 1999 and Progress of Territorial Army Restructuring, HC 860, para 20 Back

123  Sixth Report, Session 1998-99, The Reserves Call-out Order 1999 and Progress of Territorial Army Restructuring, HC 860, para 6 Back

124  Q 74  Back

125  Sixth Report, 1998-99, The Reserves Call-out Order 1999 and Progress of Territorial Army Restructuring, HC 860, para 14  Back

126  Eighth Report, Session 1997-98, The Strategic Defence Review, HC 138, para 266 Back

127  The Strategic Defence Review, Cm 3999, Supporting Essay p 7-3, para 9 Back

128  Eighth Report, Session 1997-98, The Strategic Defence Review, HC 138, Q 2703 Back

129  Eighth Report, Session 1997-98, The Strategic Defence Review, HC 138, paras 22, 30, 33 Back

130  Fourteenth Report, Session 1999-2000, Lessons of Kosovo, HC 347, Q 35 Back

131  Ev p 28 Back

132  Ev p 28 Back

133  Fourteenth Report, Session 1999-2000, Lessons of Kosovo, HC 347, para 219 Back

134  Q 42 Back

135  Q 44 Back

136  Q 44 Back

137  Q 53 Back

138  Fourteenth Report, Session 1999-2000, Lessons of Kosovo, HC 347, para 268 Back

139  Sixth Report, Session 1998-99, The Reserves Call-out Order 1999 and Progress of Territorial Army Restructuring, HC 860, para 11 Back

140  Cm 5000, MoD Performance Report 1999/2000 Back

141  Q 52 Back

142  Q 132 Back

143  Q 133 Back

144  Q 55 Back

145  Q 60 Back

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