Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I should like to support the amendment of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, to which I have put my name. First, I ought to emphasise, as did the noble and gallant Lord, that we are discussing call out for what might be called humanitarian operations. We are not talking about war-like operations or about war. We are talking about cases of natural disaster, protection of life or property and alleviation of distress operations, which are summarised in Clause 56, as the noble and gallant Lord pointed out. We are not attempting to change the maximum period of service under Clauses 52 or 54; we are simply concerned with humanitarian relief missions.

It may be that a definition of what is a "war-like" operation could help us in this matter. Perhaps the noble Earl could give us a precise definition of what is a war-like operation and what is a humanitarian operation. To give one example, as the noble and gallant Lord said, as the operation in Bosnia is under NATO command, that may be defined as a war-like operation. On the other hand, I imagine that an operation in Rwanda under the United Nations command may well be considered a humanitarian operation. Perhaps the noble Earl can clarify those points.

We need to know now, rather than when the Bill is in operation, what the obligations of reservists will be for humanitarian operations. I join forces with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, in believing that, if the Bill is to be as effective as we want it to be, a period of six months maximum service under what will be Section 56 is the right period. Anything longer than that will be a serious disincentive to people who would otherwise wish to sign up as reserves.

4 p.m.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, I should perhaps declare an interest as an honorary colonel of a TA unit. I regret to say that I do not support Amendment No. 23.

On my reading of the amendment, it will enable individuals to be called up for service for a period not exceeding nine months. I understand that honorary TA colonels and the executive council of TAVRA strongly oppose any reduction from nine months to six months. I also understand that the regular Army and the Territorial Army units wish the period to remain at nine months.

If the right team spirit is to be built up it is essential that there should be a period of pre-training before any deployment, be it operational, peace-keeping or humanitarian duties, which is what the amendment involves. It is most important that reservists blend in, in the same way as the regulars, and that both regulars and reservists get to know each other well.

If the period of service is reduced to six months, it will only allow the reservists to spend around four-and-a-half months with the unit. That would leave

27 Feb 1996 : Column 1385

a gap of one-and-a-half months when new reservists would fill in and, to my mind, be much less effective. The one-and-a-half month reservists would be left behind by the outgoing unit and taken on by the incoming new unit. They would have to become familiar with the new unit and with all the new methods that that unit may employ.

Four-and-a-half month deployments would be disruptive. They would not be in the interest of good man management and would make it more difficult to build up the necessary close relationship between reservists and regulars. They would also be more expensive. I do not support the amendment.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as a serving officer in the Territorial Army. My noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall has vast and comprehensive experience of military matters, as we all know. No one is better placed to balance the requirements of the services against the interests of the volunteer and his or her employers. He pointed out in Committee that regular soldiers are only away from home for six months, which should be enough to persuade us all of the virtues of Amendment No. 23.

I am grateful to my noble and gallant friend for reading out the letter, which I too have seen before. It is especially relevant to this debate in that the volunteers to whom my noble and gallant friend referred undertook minimal pre-deployment training. By "minimal" I understand that they merely ran through their Army training directives, which made sure that they knew how to operate their weapons, how to protect themselves in the event of an NBC attack and understood the basic principles of first aid, in which they had already been trained. That was so even when they were going to an operation which could be classed as war-like.

As my noble and gallant friend said, Amendment No. 23 is only relevant to Clause 56. Thus the pre-deployment training need not be prolonged and should not take more than two or three weeks. For some types of operation it might be longer. If a much longer period of pre-deployment military training is required it would suggest that the call-out should be made under either Clause 52 or Clause 54.

The attitude of the employers will be crucial. If an employer is sure that the volunteer will be away for no more than six months he may not take steps to have that volunteer exempted from call-out. It should be remembered that employers will be tempted to have the best quality men and women exempted from call-out. But those high quality men and women will be equally valuable to the volunteer reserve unit when engaged in operations. I therefore have no hesitation in supporting the amendment.

Lord Carver: My Lords, I too support the amendment. We should remember that it is unlikely that the Government will at any time compulsorily call up a member of the reserve forces for this type of operation. I admit that they may want to, but I hope that they would always be able to rely on members of the reserve forces

27 Feb 1996 : Column 1386

volunteering for such operations. As my noble and gallant friend said, if such a volunteer wishes to serve for more than six months, he can always do so.

We are also talking about members of the reserve forces who are called up as individuals to reinforce or strengthen some other unit or for some specialist purpose. It is almost inconceivable that complete TA units would be called up for the operations specified. The arguments put forward by my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall and my noble friend Lord Attlee are strong arguments, both from the point of view of the employer and of the volunteer. It is important for both to feel that if the reservist is compulsorily called up, it will not be for more than six months.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, we had an interesting discussion on this point in Committee and I drew attention then to the position of those serving in public bodies such as hospitals, who have a specialist interest. If the specified operations are humanitarian, such people may well be required--even in this country if the IRA bombing continues.

Do we really have enough information? I understand the position of the honorary colonels and they are right to press for the maximum period that they think proper for their purposes. But do we have enough information about the attitude of employers who will be asked to release, for this period of nine months, people who they really want? Before we place that obligation upon employers, as well as those who are ready to volunteer as reservists, we ought to ask their view. If at the end of the day it is found that, despite what the honorary colonels want, the withdrawal of specialists for humanitarian purposes interferes with the operations of employers, in particular hospitals and similar institutions, we should think again and make it six months. Therefore, for the moment I support the amendment.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, the assumption made here is that all the operations are humanitarian and that for the sixth-month rather than nine-month period which the amendment proposes they will remain either humanitarian or associated with disaster relief. One wonders whether that is a safe assumption. What happens if our armed forces get involved in operations in a theatre to which they have gone initially for humanitarian purposes? We have only to remember Somalia to recognise that it is not a safe assumption that any operation that starts as a humanitarian or disaster relief operation will invariably run its course as that and nothing else.

4.15 p.m.

Earl Howe: My Lords, we had an extensive debate on this important issue in Committee. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken today, in particular my noble friend Lord Vivian who supported the wording in the Bill.

I turn initially to the point of definition raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. Part VI contains three distinct powers of call-out. Clause 52 covers the most serious type of crisis. Clause 54 applies when warlike

27 Feb 1996 : Column 1387

operations are in preparation or in progress. Clause 56 applies to humanitarian operations but also to peacekeeping and disaster relief operations. Whether a particular call-out power may be used in any given circumstances is a matter of act. The reservists who serve in Bosnia have been called out under Section 11 of the Reserve Forces Act 1980 because it is clear that our forces are prepared for warlike operations. If the Bill were in force call-out might be under either Clause 54 or Clause 56, since the purpose of the operation would be essentially peacekeeping. If it were desired to call out reservists for peacekeeping operations that did not have a warlike element, clearly only Clause 56 would be applicable. United Nations-sponsored operations in Rwanda may be a good example, although whether it is under NATO or UN command is not strictly relevant. Whether or not it fell under Clause 56 would depend entirely on the facts of the case.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, rightly drew our attention to the possibility of the nature of the deployment starting as one thing and changing to something else. It is conceivable that the circumstances of an operation changed while reservists were called out. Clause 61 contains a power that would permit those individuals to be treated as if they had been called out under a different power appropriate to the new circumstances. That would not worsen their position. They could be released from service under the old power and immediately called out again under the new.

I do not believe that there is as great a difference between the Government's position and that of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, as may appear at first sight. As he indicated in Committee perfectly correctly, it is the aim of the Army to limit emergency tours to six months for regular soldiers. However, one recognises that that is not always possible. Some personnel, especially in the logistics corps, serve for longer. The Royal Navy routinely deploys for seven months and often nine months. I believe that the noble and gallant Lord and I are agreed that the six-month target should be applied to reservists; that is, that reservists should not normally serve on operational tours for more than six months. I can happily give an undertaking to that effect. However, we part company when the noble and gallant Lord suggests that six months should be the statutory limit on called out service under Clause 56. It is clear to me that reservists should be able to undertake six-month operational deployments when called out under Clause 56. It is also clear that deployment must form part of a longer period of called out service. Time must be allowed at the start for the process of mobilisation itself. Time must be allowed either for individuals to be assimilated into a regular unit or for a group of reservists to form up; and time must be allowed for training, sometimes general, sometimes specialist and sometimes specific to the theatre of operations.

Inevitably, after the operational tour there will be a certain amount of administration to complete. After a six-month deployment a regular soldier is, quite properly, given leave, usually one week for separation and three weeks from his normal entitlement. Reservists should receive no less. I suggest that that will be just as important after humanitarian operations as in other

27 Feb 1996 : Column 1388

cases. Our servicemen and women work just as hard and may have experiences that are as traumatic in humanitarian operations as in other kinds of operation. It is important that that leave should be protected from employer pressure to return to civilian work.

Following the debate in Committee the three services have reviewed the position. They have been able to draw on their current experience of call-out for operations in the former Yugoslavia. For the reasons I explained, the services remain of the view that a nine-month total period of called out service is necessary. Anything less will not permit the services to plan on reservists undertaking six-month operational tours alongside their regular colleagues.

Since the debate in Committee we have also taken fresh soundings within the TA. The volunteers are keen to be able to be called out to join regular units on operational tours, and they know that that requires a nine-month limit. The TA colonels, who make frequent visits to the units for which they are responsible, are unanimous that nine months is appropriate. One of those TA colonels is my noble friend the Duke of Westminster. He has written to me to express his views as the senior serving yeomanry officer. He asks me to say that he and the seven yeomanry commanding officers are unanimous in supporting the Government's view. I understand that the chairmen of the 14 Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Associations are also unanimous in their support of the nine-month limit, as the noble and gallant Lord himself indicated.

The House will appreciate that not all operations under Clause 56 will require the prolonged support of reservists. Some may last for only a few weeks or months. We will call out reservists for shorter periods than the maximum permitted whenever possible. We have done just that in the case of operations in Bosnia. I can tell the noble and gallant Lord that the TA REME provided twice as many volunteers as were sought for the Bosnia call-out. We must be able to plan on the basis of nine months' maximum permanent service for peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. The proposal to limit permanent service to six months will allow only about four and a half months in theatre, assuming that a long period of pre-deployment training is not required. The time in theatre will be further reduced if more pre-deployment training is required. For a prolonged operation the more limited the time reservists can spend in theatre the greater the number of reservists we will require to call out each year to fill a certain number of posts. That alone will both increase costs and inconvenience more employers.

The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, referred to the attitude of employers. I said in Committee that if a particular employer or reservist felt that he had good grounds on which to object to the duration of a call-out he could apply under Part VIII of the Bill for any of a number of remedies. He could seek exemption from call-out, deferral of call-out, or an earlier discharge date. These measures demonstrate that we are fully seized of the necessity to place as small a burden as possible on reservists and their employers. However, at the same time we must be able to make good and economic use

27 Feb 1996 : Column 1389

of our reservists where there is a need for their service. In the consultation process the majority of employers were content with the nine-month period. Employers who would find that difficult can seek exemption.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page