HC Deb 20 March 1996 vol 274 cc401-28

Order for Second Reading read.

5.5 pm

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is an important Bill as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, with your military interests, will be aware. It will bring the law governing reserves up to date, taking account of social, economic, service and strategic changes in the 30 years since the last substantial Reserve Forces Act in 1966. It will permit the reserve forces to be used more flexibly.

The reserve forces are an essential and vital element of our armed forces, and the Government attach great significance to them. Over the years, the reserves have adapted in order to meet changing circumstances and commitments, and they have become experts in a wide range of skills and specialisms. We in Great Britain are truly fortunate to be able to rely on the voluntary commitment of the men and women who serve in the reserves. They are capable of playing a significant part in our military contribution to the international response to future crises around the world and the Bill will make it easier for them to do so.

As the House will be aware, reservists are making a significant contribution in support of current operations. The largest number are serving as part of the UK's contribution to the NATO-led peace implementation force in the former Yugoslavia. There are currently some 650 reservists called out in support of the operation. They are doing excellent work and the whole House will wish to endorse their splendid efforts.

The Bill has been the subject of a very extensive and successful consultation exercise. The policy and provisions of the Bill have been therefore been considered broadly. I am sure that that has been an important factor in the general welcome which the Bill has received. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the broad support that the Bill received during its consideration in another place. A number of detailed and technical amendments were made there and there have been some useful improvements.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said some time ago that the Opposition would give the Bill a fair wind. I am sure that he is still of that mind. I know that Opposition Members share that view, and that the Bill will receive a smooth and speedy passage through the House, with proper and detailed consideration. I am sure that the policies enshrined in the Bill will command support from all parties in the House.

I am conscious of the fact that events today have meant that we will not have as long as we would have liked to debate this important matter. Therefore, I propose to speak briefly so that other hon. Members will have time to make the points that they wish to make. It is a great strength of the House that there are people here who have detailed knowledge and real experience of the reserves which will bring to the debate an importance that other debates sometimes lack. I intend, therefore, to restrict my comments to the main provisions and to mentioning those significant issues that were raised during the Bill's consideration in another place.

Part III makes provision for reservists to be able to undertake periods of full-time and part-time reserve service. That will be a significant improvement on the current arrangements for the use of volunteers from the reserve forces without call-out, which require them to leave the volunteer reserves, join the armed forces as regulars, and rejoin the volunteer reserves when their period of duty is completed. That is a tortuous process and it is clearly right that it should be amended, and speedily. The voluntary employment of reservists under the arrangements will enable our reserves to be used more flexibly in future, and it will offer immeasurably greater opportunities for individuals to increase their skills and undertake a wider range of tasks.

The Bill creates two new categories of reserve. Part IV deals with one—the high-readiness reserve, or HRR for short. The Bill refers not to HRR but to "special agreements", made between the Ministry of Defence and the individual when he or she accepts an increased call-out liability. The consent of the individual's civilian employer is of course also required.

We envisage that reservists with skills in short supply would mainly become subjects of special agreements. They would volunteer, with the consent of their employer, to take on a higher call-out liability. Those who agreed to accept the higher call-out liability would be subject to a maximum period of nine months' call-out. Special agreements would have to be reviewed annually, permitting both individuals and employers to re-examine whether special agreement status remained compatible with their circumstances.

The sponsored reserve scheme, to be created under part V, will permit some support tasks that are currently performed by regulars to be let to contract. The sponsored reserve will consist of civilians belonging to a contractor's work force who accept a reserve liability to continue to provide a contracted service in an operational environment. We would use the concept only where it was cost-effective and did not in any way jeopardise or compromise operational effectiveness. We believe that the concept will allow the extension of the market-testing programme into new areas to the benefit of the services and the defence industry.

Our ideas have been welcomed by many employers, who are very keen to pursue the opportunities that the scheme will provide. We of course recognise that we shall need to continue to maintain the closest liaison with employers and unions if the scheme is to be implemented successfully. Indeed, the Bill requires formal consultation before regulations are made.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Would the persons referred to in part V be subject to armed services legislation?

Mr. Soames

They would for the period in which they were engaged in the particular tasks. The way in which this will be conducted is, as I say, a matter for detailed consultation in the fullness of time with employers and unions.

Part VI re-enacts in simplified form the principal call-out powers of the Reserve Forces Act 1980, and also includes one of the most significant new provisions: a new power of call-out for peacekeeping, humanitarian and disaster relief operations. That will enable the reserves to be a part of the United Kingdom's contribution to the relief of human suffering around the world. I am sure that the House agrees that, since many reservists would very much like to play a bigger role, it is very important that they are able to contribute to such operations alongside their regular colleagues. Indeed, they may have skills that are simply not available in detail and depth at all times in the regular forces.

The maximum length of obligatory service after call-out for peacekeeping, humanitarian and disaster relief operations was discussed at some length in another place. The debate centred on whether a period of six months was more suitable than the nine months specified in the Bill. My noble Friend the Under-Secretary explained that a period of nine months was stipulated as a result of the most careful and detailed consideration, and was supported by the three services, the Territorial Army colonels and the chairmen of the 14 territorial auxiliary and volunteer reserve associations.

A period of six months would not have permitted the services to plan on reservists undertaking a six-month operational tour alongside their regular colleagues. Clearly, time must be allowed for those called out to undergo the mobilisation process, join their units, and undertake training before deployment. Nine months is sufficient for the necessary pre-deployment arrangements, and, just as important, is sufficient for individuals to take their leave entitlement at the end of their period of regular service. Faced with those arguments, their Lordships agreed to leave the Bill unamended.

Part VIII creates two important safeguards. The first is a right to seek exemption from or deferral of call-out, exercisable by a reservist and by his or her employer. The second is the provision for financial assistance to reservists and employers who are financially disadvantaged as a result of call-out. Those new safeguards clearly recognise changing employment and social pressures and the great importance of the intimate relationship between employers, reservists and the MOD. We believe that it is right to take steps to minimise any financial loss suffered by employers or reservists at a time of call-out. The proposals have been widely welcomed.

Dr. Godman

Surely it is not only a question of financial assistance. What about persons who are carrying out tasks in civilian occupations which require constant retraining? I am thinking, for example, of a welder having to weld to North sea standards. If that person is away from such work for nine months without retraining, he would not be able to go back to his old job. What retraining possibilities are there for such persons?

Mr. Soames

I cannot comment on the detail of that matter right now. All I would say, as I have already said, is that the scheme will work only if employers and reservists are confident of the arrangements made by the MOD. If they are not, we will simply not be able to attract the people whom we need. We will make absolutely sure of such confidence. The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, the detail of which will have to be enshrined in the Bill when we come to a conclusion on how to manage such matters.

The Government recognise the need to safeguard the civilian pension provision of reservists, and the provisions of part VIII allow us so to do. We are fully seized of the need to use these powers if the new provisions are to be a success. We intend to consult closely the pension industry, employers and other interested parties as ideas are developed.

Part IX makes provision for an independent system of appeal tribunals to arbitrate in the case of dispute. It is our intention to make the tribunals informal, fair and quick.

Owing to the pressure of time and the number of hon. Members who want to speak, I have tried to explain in a few moments the essential and cardinal features of what we believe is a very important piece of legislation that is in the interests of the reservists and therefore of the assets of the United Kingdom's armed forces.

The Bill is widely welcomed by the people whom it affects; I know that reservists are truly excited by the new opportunities that it offers them. It provides an important framework for the 21st century, combining the greater flexibility to use reserves with new powers of call-out and important safeguards for individuals and employers. As I said at the outset, the reserves are a truly vital part of our national effort. It is inconceivable that we will not be making more use of them, and it is important that the proper legislative framework enables them, the MOD and employers—to whom, as well as to those who serve, I extend a warm and whole-hearted vote of thanks for enabling such legislation to be possible—to have confidence in the operation. I warmly commend the Bill to the House.

5.18 pm
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen)

Since the Opposition Front-Bench team are also disappointed at the length of the debate, I shall try to match the brevity of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces.

Labour Members, like the Minister, pay tribute to our reserve forces. I was glad that he specifically referred to the 650 members of the reserve forces who are operating in the former Yugoslavia.

I think that all hon. Members will agree that the reserve forces provide that vital link between local communities and our regular forces, very much like the cadet forces. I am particularly proud that the senior reserve regiment of the British Army—the Royal Monmouthshire (Royal Engineers) Militia, founded in 1577—is partly based in my constituency, with the 100 Field Squadron, located in Chapman house in Cwmbran. It has a long history and we are very proud of it.

The Minister was correct to say that the legislation is now out of date. The Defence Committee said: The present legislation is untidy, complex and inconsistent. For that reason, as well as others, Labour Members will support the Bill in principle. We believe, as the Minister said, that there is a need for a more flexible reserve force, for special skills to be harnessed and for our country to play its part in multinational operations.

As we speak, the French Parliament is debating the future of the French armed forces. We know that other NATO countries are experiencing problems in their reserve forces—especially in the former Yugoslavia and the Gulf—in terms of poor training, inadequate management and awkward call-out measures.

The excellent report produced by the Defence Select Committee last year highlighted our problems. I understand that the turnover rate in the reserve forces is as high as 30 per cent., which compares with 20 per cent. in the United States and 21 per cent. in Australia. There is certainly a need for better recruitment to try to overcome that problem, and for improved training.

On average, only 27 days a year are spent in training in the Territorial Army. That is pretty low by comparison with our NATO counterparts. Officers are given only a two-week course at Sandhurst, compared with six months of training in the United States, 10 weeks in Canada and nine weeks in Australia. There is clearly a need to examine how we manage our reserve forces. I think that the Bill gives the House the opportunity so to do.

In the Navy debate, I and other hon. Members referred to the decline in numbers in the Royal Naval Reserve—the Royal Naval Auxiliary Reserve has gone altogether. We need assurances about the future of the Royal Marine Reserve. The Defence Committee rightly referred to the anxiety about the future of Royal Auxiliary Air Force. In its report, it said: It is disappointing that two years after the Options for Change announcement, when presumably some considerable thought was given to the future role of the RAuxAF, so little has so far been established. I hope that, if not today, then in Committee, the Minister can assure hon. Members of the future of those forces.

We are concerned about the cost and efficiency of administration in the reserve forces. I have been told that between 5,000 and 6,000 administrators of one sort or another are in the reserve forces, that the Territorial Army has little influence over its own management, that only a handful of officers reach senior rank and that there is only one brigadier for some 60,000 people. We are concerned about the ratio of administrators to members of the reserve forces. A typical unit has a current strength of 700, with a back-up of about 100 administrators. Effectively, because of hours put in by reservists, that is a ratio of one administrator to every one reservist, which is a 300 per cent. increase in 15 years. It is no wonder that the Defence Committee said that the non-regular permanent staff need to be streamlined.

I think that all hon. Members agree that the Bill should not be seen simply as a money-saving exercise or as a substitute for proper funding of our regular forces. Nor should it be seen as a method for back-door privatisation or contractorisation. I know that many hon. Members are concerned about the future of the Ministry of Defence police because clauses 24 to 27 give the Secretary of State powers with which he could privatise it. That possibility has caused great unease, and it is ironic bearing in mind the fact that the Home Secretary has recently talked about increasing the number of regular police people.

Other people regard the sponsored reserve concept as a possible threat from companies that are eager to win Government orders to our regular engineers, electricians and mechanics. Obviously we must take care with that issue. Other problems have to be sorted out with regard to the sponsored reserve concept. Will regular soldiers want to work alongside relatively untrained men? Will employers put undue pressure on employees to join the scheme, especially since firms will be anxious for more business? When training occurs, it is vital that it is carried out during the normal working day.

Employers are critical in making sponsored and high-readiness reserve schemes workable. I hope that we will be assured in Committee that financial safeguards are adequate, that payments to employers are prompt and that the compliance cost assessment—which we will consider in detail—is adequate. Employers were apparently asked to complete a questionnaire that requested information on the additional costs that they would incur if they took on a temporary replacement for an employee on call-out. Only 60 employers responded, eight of whom came from small businesses. That information and the formula must be examined with great care.

We must also be assured that form-filling and bureaucracy will be kept to a minimum. The example set in the Gulf was not good. In the Gulf war, the territorial, auxiliary and volunteer reserve associations commented that the procedures for payment to reservists were so inadequate that reservists gave up in the face of bureaucracy". That does not have to happen again. If we are to have a scheme that is workable and acceptable to employers, there must be a proper system that is prompt, fair, efficient and workable.

We must, of course, pay very special attention to employers. Will they be persuaded to release their employees for humanitarian operations? It is well and good for them to release employees for a Falklands war or a Gulf war, but will employers be convinced by call-ups for their people to go to Somalia or Rwanda, for example? We must define very carefully the difference between what the Bill refers to as a "war-like operation" and a humanitarian one.

The high-readiness reserve should not be seen as a stop-gap for skill shortages in the regular forces. One officer was quoted in The Independent in October last year as saying: Who, if they are any good, can just take nine months off? What we will get will be the freelancing, self-financing adventurers, or back-room people—just the sort we do not want. That may well be exaggerated, but it is a point. We have to ensure that people who join the high-readiness reserve are people who will be respected and can be employed by the regular forces.

There was a lot of talk in the other place about the problems of medical staff and the difficulties of national health service trusts releasing staff to be reservists. We know that there is a squeeze on resources from both ends—the NHS and the MOD. We have to consider that very carefully.

On a wider scale, aid agencies—Oxfam, in particular—are troubled that military aid for humanitarian purposes, unless it is directed properly, could cause special difficulties. They fear that such exercises would be far from cost-effective and would suffer from a lack of long-term commitment.

The Minister referred to debates in the other place on pensions. That is, of course, is a very important issue, as is discrimination against reservists by businesses. We have to look to the Bill to strengthen the case for reservists if they are discriminated against by employers because they have chosen to serve their country in this very special way.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

The hon. Gentleman has made a profound point. Change will not be achieved primarily through legislation but by a change of ethos among employers. One of the reasons why the Americans, Australians and Canadians have been more successful than us in changing that ethos is precisely because of the point he made five minutes ago: they have senior reservist generals in their Ministries of Defence to advise Ministers on how to devise operating systems that will most be appreciated by employers and the wider civilian community.

Mr. Murphy

I have a great deal of sympathy with that point. Perhaps it could be expanded on when we consider the Bill in greater detail.

While employers and employees require a proper system of appeal for exemptions from call-out, we shall need to examine in some detail in Committee some of the provisions with regard, for example, to general offences and other matters. The Minister referred to the tribunals. I welcome that reference because it is important that there should be an opportunity for people who want to be exempt from call-out to be dealt with swiftly and fairly. As good as the National Employer Liaison Committee is, we must involve many more organisations in the tribunals—for example, the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress, the Institute of Directors and, of course, our large businesses and the Federation of Small Businesses. However, that is largely a matter of detail. I hope that it can be dealt with in Committee, along with the detailed arrangements for exemption, call-out, pay and organisation.

Opposition Members agree with the Select Committee on Defence when it concluded that an increasing reliance on, or willingness to use, Reserve forces must be accompanied by an increased commitment to preserving their strength and improving their quality ߪ A new emphasis on monitoring the quality of training and recruiting the best individuals is also essential, and we look forward to seeing these measures in place so that, in time, the Reserve forces can be seen to be not just smaller, but demonstrably better". About a century ago, my grandfather, who was a miner, joined what was then the equivalent of the Territorial Army—the Monmouthshire Militia. He was very proud of doing so. Today, tens of thousands of men and women are equally proud of being members of the reserve forces. The House owes it to them and to the reservists who will follow to make sure that this legislation will stand the test of time.

5.30 pm
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

The speeches of the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) and of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces show that we shall have in Committee a constructive and worthwhile debate that will make the Bill even better than it is already. It is a good Bill because there has been lengthy consultation within the services, the reserves and the territorial, auxiliary and volunteer reserve associations, not only throughout the country but with the Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Associations Council.

As the regular forces are run down, it is vital that we retain an effective military capability. Many of us think that we are perhaps under strength and over committed. That was highlighted by the sad loss of so many Royal Air Force service men last week. In this situation, the reserves are more important than ever before, because they provide immediate front and rear line cover and support for the regular forces. I know that "Front Line First" has become a slogan, but, in reality, the front line is only as good as the reserves. That goes for the Royal Navy, the Territorial Army and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

I should declare an interest as the Inspector General of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and Honorary Air Commodore of 2622 Squadron. I have overall responsibility for the auxiliaries with the inspector and have the generous help of the Controller of the Reserve Forces at Innsworth. I have direct access to the Chief of the Air Staff, and we have constructive, cordial and regular meetings. I was certainly impressed by the Select Committee's recommendation that the Territorial Army should have something similar—a reservist who is a director general of the reserves and who therefore has an important part to play within the Ministry of Defence.

The Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve are small, and many regular officers know little of their quality and capability unless there happens to be a unit on their station. I shall outline one or two details of the history of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and what it has achieved.

The Royal Auxiliary Air Force was formed in 1924, so it is only seven years younger than the Royal Air Force. It had 20 flying squadrons in 1939, based on cities and counties—the 600 Squadron from the City of London, the 601 from the county of London, the 602 from Glasgow and the 603 from Edinburgh, a squadron that I joined later.

The squadrons fought in the battle of Britain with Spitfires and Hurricanes and were credited with shooting down one third of all enemy aircraft that were destroyed. It is true to say that the battle of Britain could not have been won without the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Members of this House took a particular interest in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force—Aiden Crawley, Vere Harvey, Grant Ferris, the Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Selkirk and others were much involved, along with Honorary Air Commodores such as Sir Will Darling from Edinburgh, Sir Anthony Eden and, of course, Winston Churchill, who was the famed Honorary Air Commodore of 615 Squadron. Members of the royal family are Honorary Air Commodores and, of course, the Queen has always been our Air Commodore-in-Chief.

The Royal Auxiliary Air Force was reformed after the war and flew Spitfires, Mosquitoes, Vampires and Meteors. Sadly, it was disbanded in 1957—perhaps that was not one of our best decisions. However, the tradition of the auxiliaries was carried on through the maritime headquarters unit. From 1980 onwards, there was a steady expansion with regiment squadrons, gun squadrons—guns were retrieved from the Argentine in the Falklands war—and the defence force flight.

"Options for Change" put the expansion into reverse, which was perhaps an ill-advised decision, as the hon. Member for Torfaen said. We lost three squadrons and four defence force flights. That was a bit of a slap in the face to keen, enthusiastic volunteers who were doing what they could to help their country by being members of the reserve forces.

Now, we have a much brighter future and enhanced opportunities under the Bill, which implements much of what is required. The call-out in the Gulf was a case in point. The restrictions of the Reserve Forces Act 1980 revealed deficiencies and, of course, there was some indecision in the Ministry of Defence about the status of reserves.

All members of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force are volunteers and ready to go at the drop of a hat. The two squadrons that were called out—the 4626 Medical Squadron and the 4624 Movement Squadron—were ready to move in 72 hours. They did valuable work in the Gulf and at Brize Norton where they were also helping. There were no problems, because the normal procedures were in place for those who could not go to put a case to the tribunal. One or two exceptional cases were accepted. I am glad that the matter is to be spelt out in more detail.

It was, however, certainly frustrating for the auxiliaries who were keen to go but unable to be called out for one reason or another. There were so many things that they could have done, such as guard duty on stations. The engineers and other tradesmen were hard pressed to keep our front-line aircraft serviced, but had to do guard duty. The reservists could have done it for them but not, apparently, under the law at the time.

In addition, employers had given reservists time off year after year for continuous or weekend training and asked why, when there was an international crisis, the reservists were not called out. It seems that their enthusiasm to help the auxiliaries was not reciprocated in an international crisis. I hope that such problems will be righted and dealt with in Committee.

I am glad that the humanitarian aspects of dealing with disasters are to be dealt with. We have always been keen to help. Territorials were involved at the time of the Lockerbie disaster, and even last month, during the particularly heavy snow falls, the TA was keen to help and did so when required.

In many ways, high-readiness reserves are similar to the Royal Auxiliary Service, because they are ready to go at the drop of a hat. The change of emphasis means that, whereas the auxiliaries operate as a unit, members of the HRR will operate more as individuals. We must be careful in Committee, because we do not want to create a feeling within a unit that some are getting more resources because they are on the HRR list than those which are ready to go but are not on the list. We also have to balance employers' attitudes to call-out for six or nine months. From reading the debate in the Lords and from considering the matter myself, I am sure that the Government are right that nine months should be the period. That allows time for training, going away for sixth months, returning, debriefing, perhaps retraining for a civilian task, which the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) mentioned, and for leave. Six to nine months is what we should consider in Committee. I read, too, the National Employer Liaison Committee paper on call-out exemptions, which made many sensible suggestions.

The Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve has done a wonderful job and has the same great traditions as the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. The two living recipients of the Victoria cross in the Royal Air Force were both in the volunteer reserve during the war. On 1 April 1997, subject to the Bill going through the House, the volunteer reserve flights—intelligence, interrogation, meteorology and so on—will come into the Royal Auxiliary Air Force to make one force. That is all to the good. The reservists are keen on that. There is an amicable relationship. We are looking forward to a great ceremony next spring when the volunteer reserve and the auxiliaries will be united. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will ensure that it does not happen on election day.

We in the reserves are keen to maintain a welcome place for women. We have women in the regiment squadron, and many serve in the maritime headquarters unit and, of course, in the movement squadron. They all do the most valuable work and we must maintain a prominent place for them.

The hon. Member for Torfaen talked about the medical side. We have the area medical squadron with a flight detached to Edinburgh. Doctors are in short supply in the reserves, especially the highly trained consultants that are needed to deal with the exceptional injuries that occur in war—particularly with aircraft.

The auxiliaries are doing well and we look forward with confidence to the immediate future. We have cadreised squadrons—27 and 48 squadrons—where auxiliaries work with regulars who operate Rapier. That is good. There are plans for composite squadrons. That is the way that we will go in future. We will not have squadron units like the present regiment squadrons, but composite squadrons full of skilled tradesmen and men of great experience who may be hived off one, two or three at a time to assist the regular Air Force at times of need. That is an important change of emphasis.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree that we also need a geographical change. Units are concentrated in the east and the south-west because that is where the aerodromes at which the auxiliary squadrons are based are located, but we have little in the west midlands or the north of England. I would like able men or women who are keen to be reservists to have the opportunity to join reserve units. There should be something near to where they live.

We are having successful flying trials with the Wessex and Hercules. I should like to have a look at the Hawk and do some search and rescue work as the opportunity arises. In return for all the high morale and hard work, I hope that the MOD will give us adequate opportunity to train abroad. Every two or three years, squadrons should go to Cyprus, Germany or the United States of America, because that is a great incentive that is warmly welcomed by all reservists.

We must also think of reservists' families, which give up husbands, boyfriends and other relatives for long periods while they are away doing their volunteer training. As the hon. Member for Torfaen said, when we ask them to do so much, let us not waste time with red tape. There is far too much paperwork in the MOD and the auxiliary air force. I go berserk trying to translate all the sets of initials. I do not have a clue what they stand for.

Last, the RAuxAF, like the Territorial Army and the Navy, asks for stability. We have gone through a traumatic period. We should now concentrate and build for the future. The Bill gives us a great opportunity so to do. It is a valuable step forward. It is tremendous that reservists have this year a Bill that we will discuss in detail in Committee which will give them a real opportunity to serve their country, which they appreciate so much.

5.44 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The Territorial Army has always recruited well in Wales. As a Welshman, I am therefore pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) in this debate.

Equally, I attended in June 1994 at University college, London a conference on the future of the TA with the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). The TA representatives hoped that the Bill would appear in the Queen's Speech at the end of that year. Although the draft Bill did not appear until May 1995, it is clear that the Government used the time wisely in consultation. I hope that that will be a precedent for other Bills. There was a thorough examination of the Bill in the other place, with a great deal of expertise and experience which, alas, is perhaps not wholly matched in this House. Given the degree of consultation and scrutiny of the Bill and the TA's impatience and enthusiasm, perhaps we can give the Bill an easier passage than we otherwise might have done.

One problem is that fewer and fewer people can offer the reservoir of experience that the right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) can. Alas, his generation is passing on and there is an increasing gulf, both within and outside the House, between civilian society and the services, in part because of the ending of national service. One of the joys of the TA is that it is a means of bridging that otherwise increasingly yawning gulf. Such bridges must be built and the TA should be used for that purpose.

Some may argue that the Bill's key motivation was to get an army on the cheap and that the fingerprints of the Treasury are all over it. That may have been a part of it, but we are convinced that it is really to make our reserve forces more flexible and enable them to adjust properly to a changed world environment and to changes in our society. I shall not go into the details of parts III, IV and V, which are relevant to the need for increased flexibility.

Dr. Godman

Has my hon. Friend given any thought to the circumstances surrounding the call-up of an unemployed person? Would such a person, when he finishes his service with the armed forces, be allowed to start at the beginning in terms of receiving the jobseeker's allowance?

Mr. Anderson

That is a matter of detail for the Employment Service. I understand that a sizeable proportion of reservists are unemployed, but that employers are more and more ready to value the skills that reservists gain in their periods of training. That benefit will be enhanced by the aligning of qualifications in the service with qualifications outside so that employers will have a valuable product at the end of the service period.

I have a few points to make, which I hope are non-partisan. It is objectively true that a number of problems created by the Government impact adversely on reservists. First, the simultaneous reduction of the regular and volunteer elements of our defence forces had a cumulative effect which could have been avoided if our reserve forces had been reduced a year or so after the substantial reductions in our regular forces.

Another change—I appreciate that I would be out of order if I went too far down this road—is the effect of the Government's Sunday trading legislation, with the increase in seven-day high street trading, which makes the concept of weekend soldiers more difficult and the weekend soldiers more difficult to identify, recruit and train progressively. There are also the Government reforms in the health service, to which I shall come in a moment.

It is essential to provide flexibility and to have a seamless regular-reserve concept which involves much closer liaison with civilian society, employers and trade unions. Short-term contracts are increasingly a feature of employment, but short-term service is a relatively new concept in our military, although one much advanced in, for example Canada. I hope that the Ministry of Defence can learn substantially from the Canadian precedent. Short-term contracts raise issues about the standards of professionalism as well as about the levels of training and competence required of military employment groups.

We rightly boast of our military as a centre of excellence. We therefore need to proceed with care to avoid dilution and we need to look carefully at the terms of service. A civilian employee is rarely expected to work under the terms of service offered by the Army. We must also consider the new nature of risk. We need to study, for example, the insurance of our new reservists because the British Army has been notoriously poor in terms of insuring its personnel.

The Bill will also have an effect on the ethos of our military units. A person who signs up for the military signs up for a quasi-family structure, with a supportive framework. If we are to have individual reservists who are not in formed units, it will be more difficult to maintain that ethos, which has been so valuable a feature of our services.

We assume that civilian volunteers can bring their skills smoothly into the military, although their military tasks are often very different from their previous tasks. In Canada, for example, there is up to six months of pre-training before the volunteers have overseas postings.

I have two observations on the link with the civilian sector. The Government have clearly made a strong effort to liaise with employers and to listen to their problems, and there have been a number of modifications to the Bill as a result of those consultations. Reservists have much to offer, but it is clear that there is some resistance by employers, which was expressed recently at a conference on the Bill held in Birmingham.

Industry is increasingly competitive. I understand that sectors of industry which are owned by foreign companies are more resistant to releasing people for volunteer service than others. The difficulties are enhanced by the fact that fewer and fewer of the chairmen of our major companies have had military experience, so companies are less willing to release people. It is therefore important that there be bridge-building exercises. I commend the efforts of the employer liaison committees, established nationwide since 1988, and I especially commend the recent initiatives by the National Employer Liaison Committee, the general national vocational qualifications scheme, the university student scheme and others.

With regard to the national health service trusts, I accept that the executive stretch training has in some cases been focused on the trusts. However, I had a discussion this morning with the chief executive of my local health trust in which he spelled out the fact that the shortages in the NHS trusts are in precisely the specialties that are needed by the military. One thinks particularly of anaesthetists, orthopaedic surgeons, accident and emergency specialists and neurosurgeons. In my local health service trust in Morriston, there are currently four vacancies for anaesthetists. An adjoining national health service trust tried to recruit anaesthetists by employing a headhunter to tour Europe; after two attempts it appointed three people, but at double the normal salary in NHS trusts. It is difficult to fill key posts in specialties needed by the military.

That problem is, alas, a result of the failings of medical manpower planning over the years. Planning is increasingly geared to conform with the immediate requirements of the patients charter. In the new contracting environment in which the trusts must deliver their contracts by the end of the year, it will clearly be difficult for the NHS trusts, which are contractually bound to deliver certain contracts, to be expected to release specialists when they are needed. That is especially true of peacekeeping operations in, for example, Cambodia or Somalia. Reservists may be sent to Saudi Arabia and may have to wait for a month or two in the expectation that something may happen, but the NHS trusts have to fulfil key contracts even though their staff are stretched and although junior doctors are doing work that should be done by consultants. I ask the Government to look carefully at that problem. If, within the new internal market, the Government add more requirements, they must have let-out arrangements to cater for the problems of health service trusts.

A blessing on the Bill—it is long awaited and much welcomed—but will it work in practice? Clearly we need to monitor its operation carefully, as the Canadian army social affairs department has done. We want to ensure that those who become reservists are not people who cannot get jobs elsewhere. We need to profile the background and motives of potential recruits and to find out whether they are absorbed back into their former employment when they leave the services. The House must recognise that our colleagues in the Territorial Army and reservists generally are impatient for the Bill to go through and we should respond accordingly.

5.57 pm
Sir Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)

I emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) about the reserve forces being a bridge between the military and the civilian community, especially when there are fewer and fewer people around who have had any military experience. That was a point well made.

Like many others, I welcome the Bill. I hope that hon. Members who follow the fortunes of the air reserves and the naval reserves will not mind if I concentrate my remarks on the Territorial Army as I recently had the great honour and privilege of being appointed honorary colonel of the 4th Royal Green Jackets.

I especially welcome the great improvement in the procedures for embodying TA volunteers in the Regular Army during, for example, the humanitarian exercise in Bosnia. At present, when TA people transfer to the Regular Army on S-type engagements, a series of rather cumbersome steps must be gone through. People often lose a rank and they sometimes have to wait for several weeks while they go through a vetting process. That will all be taken care of in the new arrangements.

The Minister has referred to the debate about whether the period of service should be six or nine months. I give him my support for the proposal for nine months as the optimum period. It is important that the Army has the opportunity to get reasonable use out of TA volunteers. We should not underestimate the amount of adjustment and acclimatisation that will be necessary even among people who are specialists.

I wish to draw to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister an important point concerning funding of TA personnel. I hope very much that the funding liability will follow the person—that is to say, that it will be a charge on the budget of the Assistant Chief of General Staff and not remain as a charge on the TA budget. If that happened, it would be a serious diminution in the࠸

Mr. Soames

I hasten to give my hon. Friend that absolute assurance. That must indeed be the case, and I think he will find that the ACGS will be proud to pay.

Sir Geoffrey Pattie

I should be interested to hear whether he is actually proud to pay, but I am glad to know that he will have the opportunity to pay.

The Territorial Army wants the chance to go overseas and train and exercise alongside regular units. Therefore, as much of the training day budgets as possible should be oriented towards making the training as exciting as possible, because that is why people join. In the context of "one Army", I should like mission statements to be developed for all TA units. It is important for members of the TA to know whether they will be used as independent units or whether they are individual people who will be used as gap-fillers. Work remains to be done in issuing those mission statements.

The idea of integrating the TA properly into the "one army" concept should not work against the concept of having a very senior TA officer at what I would describe as the pinnacle of the officer structure. Let us face it, to attract the brightest and the best into the TA and then retain them, which is equally important, it is important that they see the opportunity to get right to the top— by which I mean an appointment at two star level.

I very much welcome the Bill and I hope that it will soon pass through the House.

6.1 pm

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

Those who have spoken have set admirable examples of brevity and relevance, which I shall do my best to follow.

I hope that once the Bill becomes law it will re-invigorate the reserve forces. It will give a new reason for the commitment and training that is already required. It will help retention, which was mentioned, and do much to increase morale, which many people acknowledge has been fragile in recent years.

It is right that members of the reserves will be able to be involved in activities that, although not of a strictly military nature according to the traditional definition, such as peacekeeping, are none the less activities in which our regular forces will be employed rather more frequently in future than any of us may have expected. If there are more opportunities and more possibilities of using the training that is currently required, those who undergo that training will be less likely to want to leave, which is bound to have an effect on the high turnover. We should remember that members of the reserves often bring unique skills to the theatre of operation, especially in medicine and interpreting—skills which I understand are frequently in short supply in the Regular Army.

Broadly speaking, as the speeches have shown, the Bill enjoys the support of the House and has been given a fair wind, but several issues need further consideration. Some have been mentioned, but I shall mention others simply to place them on record. I do not necessarily require the Minister to respond today or even by letter immediately afterwards—I simply put down markers for issues which may require more detailed consideration in Committee.

On high-readiness reserves, I am worried about the possible problem of discrimination due to employers not being prepared to take the risk that an employee might be called out for up to nine months at relatively short notice. There is an obvious possibility of discrimination, but there is another, perhaps more insidious, possibility—that an employee's prospects for promotion in an organisation might be affected if the employee were subject to the high-readiness reserve commitment. It may be asking a great deal of human nature to expect an employer, choosing between two candidates of equal experience and qualification for one position, to manage to put out of his or her consideration the fact that one of them might be subject to the commitment involved in membership of a high-readiness reserve. That will require monitoring on the part of those responsible for such matters once the Bill has passed into law. Although one hesitates to talk about the need for specific organisations or structures for that purpose, that issue will be, at least in the first instance, a live issue in the mind of employers and—perhaps more significantly—of employees.

The Minister spoke about the maximum term of service that those who sign a special agreement to serve can be called up to serve. Notwithstanding the way in which he dealt with it in his speech, that issue will be revisited in Committee and perhaps even on Report. I do not wish to canvass the competing arguments that have been made about that issue, but obviously it needs further consideration.

I shall briefly discuss those who will come to be called sponsored reserves. We need to demonstrate realism about that proposal, for the following reason. We were all extremely impressed—as we should have been—by the extraordinary support that British Aerospace gave the British air effort in the Gulf war. We should remember, however, that British Aerospace was already in Saudi Arabia, there was a pre-existing infrastructure and it was actively seeking to demonstrate how well it could support the Tornado aircraft because it was actively seeking to persuade the Saudi Government—which it subsequently did—to acquire 48 of the aircraft. Those were special circumstances and it behoves us to be careful in making too many long-term judgments on the basis of such circumstances.

The other point about sponsored reserves which seems to be significant is as follows. It is envisaged that there will be active members of the reserves with a minimum training commitment, but to what extent will they be trained to survive on the battlefield? If they are expected to perform those functions, for which there appears to be the possibility of a contract, that may well place them in circumstances in which their capacity to survive could be severely tested. That may or may not fit easily into their other obligations, but it is an issue that must be considered.

Like others, I am worried about the notion that national health service trusts are writing into the contracts of some of their specialists that they cannot join the reserves. The fact that, even in the Gulf, we needed to deploy a field ambulance unit from Glasgow from the reserves shows the extent to which, in time of crisis, reliance on reserve units is necessary in the medical field. It would be a curious reflection on the responsibility that national health service trusts accept or bear if they were to persist in actions of the type described. I hope that the Secretary of State for Health may find it appropriate to take up the issue with national health service trusts which have embarked, or may be about to embark, on implementing such proposals.

Manpower is another issue. The purpose of reservists is to ensure that in a crisis the services can draw on skilled and trained people. The Minister will accept that there would be a certain amount of reservation—no pun intended—in the House if it were felt that the purpose of the proposed legislation was to overcome circumstances in which there were too few regulars by using reservists.

A written answer on 12 March 1996 at columns 507ߝ8 shows that only seven out of 54 Army regiments are currently at their full establishment level. No doubt, this is a matter of which the Minister is well seized and he is seeking, so far as is available to him, to take steps to remedy it. I believe that in the House and in the country there would be some resistance to the notion that the purpose of increasing training and opportunities is to provide not a supplement but a substitute.

I welcome the proposal in clause 56 in relation to the possibility of the involvement of reserves in humanitarian, disaster relief and peacekeeping operations. The Minister may be aware that some non-governmental organisations, particularly Oxfam, have expressed some reservations about this as they are concerned that the humanitarian, disaster relief and peacekeeping roles should not be expanded to include the direct provision of relief. They have raised certain issues about military involvement not always being seen as entirely neutral but rather as political. They also raised issues about cost-effectiveness and referred to the mismatch of culture—the mentality of the soldier being always one of solving the problem, whereas the success of relief operations sometimes depends on a rather different approach. Those issues will have to be considered in Committee stage.

I welcome the Bill as it contains a sensible set of proposals and it should command the support of all hon. Members on Second Reading. For the reasons that I have outlined, the Bill will provide a valuable shot in the arm for the reserve forces of the Crown.

6.11 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

It always gladdens the heart when the grand hussar of British politics opens a debate—never more so than on this occasion. He never transmits with the mute button on, he comes over strength five, loud and clear. I agreed with every word in the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces.

It is most encouraging that the reserve forces should have my right hon. Friend's enthusiasm behind them at this important legislative juncture and that Her Majesty's Government, far from setting in place a series of reductions, can be instituting a framework that will offer the reserve forces opportunities to be used infinitely more widely in the defence of the realm and in peacekeeping operations.

We should bear in mind the examples set by the United States. I refer to the air reserves. For example, 60 per. cent. of the air defence of the continental United States is done by the Air National Guard and the United States Air Force reserve. In the Gulf war, 50 per cent. of the air transport was carried out by reserves from the United States air forces. We also have the supreme examples of Israel and Switzerland. The operational capability of Israel's air force, which has a large militia component, is second to none.

An honorary air commodore is sitting in front of me and an honorary colonel is sitting behind me, so it behoves me to be brief. What my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said needs to be borne in mind. At RAF Northolt in my constituency, which is the only No. 11 group sector station of erstwhile Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain that is still a flying station, we have No. 1 Maritime Headquarters Unit of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. When I visit it, I am always struck by the extremely high calibre of the personnel—officers and other ranks, men and women. There is now a galaxy of talent, a wealth of expertise and professional skill in the civil community which our armed forces need to use more effectively. The Bill will enable them to do just that.

In the reform of the reserve forces, I urge the Government to retain, as much as possible, formed units. The territorial connections of units of the reserves in all three armed forces are exceptionally important. I ask that Her Majesty's Government be imaginative and to recognise that modern simulation, for example, enables much more worthwhile training to be done in a relatively short time and means that there is a premium on the expertise, or the potential expertise, of the part-timer and the reservist which was not previously available.

When we are looking at sponsored reserves, again on the air side, I urge Her Majesty's Government to use sponsored reservists in the flying training schools so that they wear a uniform and so that the instructors are not—how should I put it—blazered and flannelled but clearly military, not just in orientation but in dress and appearance. With respect to the airlines, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will recognise that often airliners will have to be taken up, commandeered and put to military use. In those instances, I urge that the crews be required to be members of the sponsored reserve. The contractors who are providing the engineering personnel more and more at Royal Air Force stations should be sponsored reservists as well.

Finally, I refer to peacekeeping. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries pointed out, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force has exceptionally valuable capability, as the Gulf war experience proved—including aeromedical and air movements expertise. The Royal Air Force regiment squadrons can be used to secure airheads in particularly troubled and difficult zones.

In conclusion, this is a timely Bill which I warmly welcome. I ask the Minister not to forget—because I did my armed forces scheme attachment to them—the Royal Marines reserves. It would be a bad signal if at this juncture we were to reduce the complement of the Royal Marines reserves.

6.16 pm
Mr. Hugh Bayley (York)

I endorse the point that has just been made by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) about the importance of ensuring that a military ethos remains in place now that civilians are involved in training. I pay tribute to the third battalion of the Prince of Wales' Own Regiment of Yorkshire, which is based in my constituency and which currently has one Territorial Army officer and 18 other ranks serving in the NATO implementation force in Split. According to an article that appeared in the Soldier earlier this month, it is the first time that a non-specialist formed TA unit has been deployed in an operational theatre since Aden in 1965.

The battalion tells me that this unit is a specialist unit. It is trained in heavy weapons and mortar fire, but the role that it is playing in Split is as a general defensive unit. That is why it was described as such in the Soldier. What is different is that it has gone into theatre as a single unit, which has worked and trained together in the United Kingdom, to serve in the NATO force in Split. That is something that has not happened for 30 years, and something that is more likely to happen in the future and is supported by the Bill.

I asked an officer of the battalion how easy it had been to get volunteers to serve in this way, and he said that on this occasion it had not been too difficult. The unit comprises 19 people who will serve in Croatia for a six-month period. The officer is hopeful that he will be able to replace the unit with another TA formed unit when its tour of duty comes to an end in June.

Of the 19 men in the unit, seven are unemployed and two are self-employed—half the men serving in Split did not have to get the permission of their employer to do so. The availability of people who are either self—employed or who are unemployed will vary from one part of the country to the other. I am sure that all hon. Members would hope that the level of unemployment that we have at the moment will not persist in the long term, so let me add a word of caution. In future, it may be harder to mobilise a formed reservist unit.

My second point, on which I shall be brief, is a result of the time that I was extremely fortunate to spend in the armed forces parliamentary scheme. I was attached to the Royal Air Force for one year. It is obvious that the relationship between regulars and reservists is not always banter free.

In the context of a shrinking regular force and the measures proposed in the Bill, it is clear that our reserve forces will play a greater role in future. It is important that reservists and regulars should work together as a single unit on operational duties, so we need to be conscious of the potential for friction between the two.

During my time on the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I was told repeatedly by officers and other ranks in the Royal Air Force that contractorisation had gone far enough. However committed a private contractor is—and they spoke warmly and highly of the contractors that provide support services to the RAF—the work carried out by civilians is not the same as that of men and women in uniform. Particularly in the transitional period, when the Royal Air Force and the other armed services are being reduced in size, there is inevitably some suspicion and friction between service men and contractors. Some service men—sometimes with justification—see the process of contractorisation as a threat to their jobs. It also represents a threat to the promotion prospects of some extremely able younger airmen.

Contractorisation has saved the armed forces hundreds of millions of pounds and that must be good, provided that it does not undermine the professionalism or the readiness for operations of our armed forces. Although it is right that the Bill should contain such a provision, the creation of a sponsored reserve is an admission that a greater commitment is needed from the civilians employed by contractors. I support the proposal to create the new category of a sponsored reserve, but I would not want it to become an excuse for pushing the boundaries of the functions market-tested and considered for contractorisation any wider.

6.22 pm
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

As a pilot in the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve, I welcome the Bill. As has been pointed out, while the regular forces are reducing in size, the reserves are steadily increasing in number. That is most encouraging. We must encourage people to volunteer for the reserves. I acknowledge the need for the nine-month rule and we should also ensure that we can recruit sufficient reservists in all three services. Therefore, we need to take into account the needs of employers, given that spare time is in not quite such abundant supply as it was in the past.

We also need to look closely at the medical reserves. That has been discussed in detail and I shall not repeat the points that have been raised. However, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take an early opportunity to speak to my hon. Friend the Minister for Health, whose wife is a reservist. I am quite certain that the result of that dialogue will be a greater understanding of the needs of the medical reserves in relation to the operation of trust hospitals.

It is also important to increase the status of the reserves. I fully acknowledge the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) about the need for a two-star reservist appointment for the position as head of the reserves. That will encourage further recruitment as it will provide a status and a voice they have not had in the past at that level.

Finally, I want to raise a couple of points about the Royal Air Force. As 14,000 regular airmen will be leaving the RAF this year, I hope that they will provide a good recruiting ground for further reservists. Many of them are leaving through voluntary redundancy. Sadly, a few are leaving through compulsory redundancy. None the less I would submit that many of them would be only too happy to serve in the reserves if they were given the opportunity to do so.

I fully acknowledge and support the idea of sponsored reserves. The Royal Air Force in particular is moving to a system of increased contractorisation. If we are to retain the capability of the training organisation in the air force—particularly the flying training organisation—to support the front line if we are ever called upon to take part in a conflict such as that in the Gulf, we shall need a system whereby those in the training organisation can take up front-line posts to allow pilots to fly greater numbers of missions where they are stationed abroad. The only way to do that is to ensure that some of those contractorised pilots are reservists and can be called upon to carry out those important jobs.

I very much welcome the Bill, which is an important step forward for the reserve forces. As a reservist, I wish it every speed and success.

6.26 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside)

I shall be very brief. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), I have to declare an interest. I hold a honorary appointment and, in addition, I have served for 40 years as a volunteer reserve pilot and instructor and have commanded a volunteer unit. Like many of my hon. Friends, I speak from some experience and on behalf of the volunteers.

We welcome the Bill. We need to look at how the reserves and auxiliaries are structured, how the leadership is composed and how the command structures relate effectively to the volunteers and that requires volunteers at the top. We must also provide an environment in which volunteers can be called out quickly. I hope to address that in Committee by tabling some helpful amendments that would give my hon. Friends on the Front Bench more leverage and create the right environment based on experience.

There is nothing new about having reservists who can be called out quickly. We had it immediately after the second world war when all the reserve flying schools were staffed by reservists. That proved extremely valuable at the time of Korea, so we have some experience of that. Once again, I welcome the Bill.

6.28 pm
Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)

I shall curtail my remarks, not least because the Bill has come before the House in a model way and the fact that it has received endorsement from another place and from the Opposition is a great tribute to the territorial, auxiliary and volunteer reserve associations, the National Employer Liaison Committee and, perhaps above all, to my hon. Friend the Minister, who for the past year has been absolutely meticulous in his exchanges with those of us who have written to him representing various points, all of which he has taken seriously.

The crux of the Bill is striking the right balance in the relationship between the Government employers and employees. I would not wish upon anyone my experience as an Army reserve officer who was forced to leave the volunteer reserves to join the regulars and then to rejoin the volunteer reserves at the conclusion of that service. It was a ridiculous system and I hope I do not misquote my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) who described it as a "pretty good shambles". We had the will to mobilise people, but the system was not adequate to the task. I hope that the Bill will rectify that situation.

I welcome particularly the provision whereby reservists will be used in humanitarian, disaster relief and peacekeeping operations. However, I issue a plea to my hon. Friend for constructive co-operation between his Department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Overseas Development Administration to ensure that people with the right expertise are deployed with maximum speed and minimum bureaucracy.

My hon. Friend the Minister paid tribute to 650 Territorial Army soldiers and reservists who are serving in Bosnia. I do not know whether some reservists have shown some initiative—exactly the sort of initiative that we want to see—and sneaked under the wire because, according to my arithmetic, more than 900 reserve and TA soldiers are serving in Bosnia. I welcome their deployment—whatever the correct figure may be. Last month I visited the platoon stationed in the Falklands. There are 20 or 30 men stationed in Cyprus and a contingent of 100 or so in Kenya. That is a proud record and the Bill lays the foundation for better deployment in future.

I shall now raise two points on behalf of individual reservists. I have corresponded with my hon. Friend—who responded very constructively—expressing my reservations about replacing personal annual reporting by reservists with a postal reporting system. It may be a cheaper method, but I cannot believe that it is reliable. People may change addresses or employers or become medically unfit and I think that the new system is a false economy. When the dust surrounding the legislation has settled, I ask my hon. Friend to consider reintroducing training liability for reservists, including personal weapons training and nuclear, biological and chemical drill. Will my hon. Friend also rationalise the existing four categories of reservists, which I believe is a complete nonsense?

In conclusion, I am concerned that in future regular forces will rely increasingly upon reservists for medical services—an issue that was mentioned previously in the debate. It has been suggested that restrictions will be written into national health service trust contracts. I have corresponded with my hon. Friend about the matter, and there is little anecdotal evidence to suggest that that will occur. Events have moved on and the problem now is that, under the Bill, employers will be able to apply to exempt their employees from reserve military duties. The House must address that issue. After all, there is precious little point in having a highly effective front-line force if one does not have a properly trained and integrated support body.

I endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) who referred to the valuable role played by the TAVRAs in bridging the gap between the regular services and people who have no experience of military life. I congratulate the TAVRAs, which do a marvellous job keeping alive the concept of a volunteer service.

6.33 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Like the length of the debate, my contribution shall be in inverse proportion to the respect in which I hold the reserve forces and the importance that the House attaches to them. The British reserve forces are second to none. Large numbers of them visit my constituency of Salisbury for training every year and they will always be welcome.

Although the reserve forces protect our future, their roots are in the past, and the Bill deals in part with that historical tradition. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would explain clause 121 relating to the lieutenancies. I do not think that I have seen a declaratory clause in a Bill before. Clause 121(2) states: It is hereby declared that the validity of the appointment of a lord-lieutenant". I think that an explanation would underline the history of the reserve forces in this country and illuminate the debate.

I am proud to represent a constituency with a long tradition of association with this country's voluntary forces. It is exemplified by the 62nd Wiltshire Regiment of Foot, which dates back 200 years. I pay a warm tribute to my predecessor but one, Lord Margadale of Islay, who had a distinguished record of service in that regiment and in the House. I am the first Member of Parliament for Salisbury for many years who has not served in the forces. My predecessor, Sir Michael Hamilton, did so with distinction.

However, that tradition brings with it a penalty, as I suspect that I am the only hon Member who, upon winning one's seat in a general election, must appear on the balcony of the local hostelry, the White Hart, the morning after and sing a song. Appropriately, it is the marching song of the Wiltshire regiment, "The Vly be on the Turmut". I shall not sing it tonight, Madam Speaker: I shall wait until next May. I believe that "Erskine May" would have something to say if I were tempted down that path.

I congratulate the Bill teams in the Ministry of Defence who have worked particularly hard this year. Those of us who serve on the Select Committee considering the Armed Forces Bill know just how hard they work. There is some cross-linkage between this complicated Bill and that legislation. I suspect that that fact will be examined in Committee, as we must address several points.

I am grateful to the Minister's Bill team for providing some guidance on the subject and for pointing out that the provisions of the two Bills are linked. The general liability of reservists for worldwide service on call-out or recall is restricted in clauses 51 and 67 of the Reserve Forces Bill to allow for the existence in future of former regulars who had been engaged for local service as provided under clause 2 of the Armed Forces Bill. The effect is that, unless they elect otherwise, those individuals will, when called out or recalled, be liable to serve only in the area in which they were liable to serve as a regular. That provision anticipates, but does not rely upon, clause 2 of the Armed Forces Bill. That is a very important point that I believe sets a new precedent.

In conclusion, I emphasise the importance of the cadet units and the rifle and aviation clubs which are regulated under the Bill. They add to the sense of community among the forces across the country. We are very proud of our reserve forces and their ancient history. They provide comradeship and make for a richer society, which extends to bands, marching songs and to Members of Parliament singing "The Vly be on the Turmut".

6.37 pm
Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)

This has been a well-informed debate on both sides, with a considerable amount of common ground, which is not always a feature of debates in this place. There is a common desire to constrain red tape—I hope that the Minister has taken that on board—and a recognition of the role of the reserve forces, with special reference to the reserve associations, as a bridge between military and civilian societies.

We must maintain understanding of those differing roles, particularly in the light of the abolition of national service and the disappearance from the House of many hon. Members who saw service during the last war. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) referred to the role of the Combined Cadet Force—I get the feeling that service in the CCF will soon distinguish one in this place. It is important to ensure that there is a degree of understanding.

There is also a recognition of the need to update the legislation, and that need arises from the transformation of defence commitments and social and economic conditions in our society, not least the changing patterns of work. The legislation will have to address the casualisation of labour and new flexibility in working patterns, however regrettable we think those changes are. The legislation will go some way towards addressing that. As was stressed by a number of hon. Members during the debate, a change in the attitude and culture of employers will be needed and will be an important part of the continuing work on the Bill.

I realise that the Minister was constrained by time in opening the debate, but I hope that in his reply or in Committee he will be able to develop the philosophy and doctrine behind the Department's view of the role of the reserves. I hope that we shall not have the mass of amendments in Committee that there were in another place, unless the Whips allow the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) his desire to sit on the Committee.

I suspect that it would be not only the Opposition who would be concerned if the reserves were seen by the MOD or by the Treasury as a substitute rather than a supplement for the regular forces. If the thin red line were stretched even thinner and the gaps were to be filled somehow by the reserves, that would be a matter of concern, and we need some assurance from the Minister on that.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) drew our attention to a parliamentary answer on the shortfall in a number of regiments. I am glad that he did, because I tabled the original question and the matter is of concern to people in many areas.

We shall also need to assess the balance of roles and responsibility between the regulars and the reserves. I take the point made by the right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) about the role of reserves in the snow emergency. That was important and welcome, but the prime role of the reserve forces should not be as a substitute for the emergency services. The prime role of the reserves, it must be stressed, has to be as a reserve for the armed forces. The Government should not see the reserves as substitutes to do the real work that needs to be undertaken by the emergency services, including ambulances and the fire brigade.

I hope that the Minister will tell us whether he envisages the Regular Army becoming a more cadreised force or whether we shall maintain a strong and effective Regular Army. What assessment has the Department made of the cost-effectiveness of the balance between reserve forces and regular forces? Will the Department continue to monitor that?

My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Bayley) rightly stressed that we would not want to see the sponsored reserves as a cover for problems with contractorisation. There will be difficulties in moving some of the work to contractors because it will not then be undertaken under military discipline. I hope that the Minister can reassure us on that point.

In the debate in another place, the question was raised of the pressure on individuals, who were seeking employment in their trade with a firm that would undertake work for the MOD, to join the sponsored reserves against their better will and judgment. I am sure that that would not be good for those individuals and, equally, the MOD would not wish to see conscription by the back door by those means. In the long term, that would make for unsatisfactory working relationships. We would welcome assurances from the Minister on that.

Mr. Brazier

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that it is unreasonable for the MOD to insist that certain contracts go only to companies with a certain proportion of employees who have a reserve liability.

Mr. Spellar

The problem with that is that individuals might join the reserve forces to get the civilian job, in the hope and expectation that they would not then have to undertake the obligations of the reserve forces. That is a concern felt not just by the Opposition, but by those in the armed forces. We should be alert to that problem.

The right hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) raised the question whether the reserves will be brought into the forces as individuals or as a unit. If they come in as individuals, how will the necessary team feeling be built up? How much time will be required for the necessary training? My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) drew attention to the differences that we have compared with other countries, in the time taken for acclimatisation and assimilation.

We must also consider the difficulties in the transition from work in an industrial environment to work in a military environment. That is partly a question of discipline, as one or two hon. Members suggested, but it is also a question of working in different cultures. Often, it is easier to match competencies than to mix cultures. There are difficulties when different individuals come into a common working environment through different schemes. It will be a difficult job to engender the team feeling that is required in the armed forces, and it will require skill and competence.

We also wish to ask the Minister to consider the effect of the scheme on surge capacity. In many cases, the industrial establishment is seen as providing surge capacity in times of emergency. We must guard against the danger of double-counting that capacity and counting those who are part of the sponsored reserves as part of the industrial environment. We need to ensure that we have the right balance.

I hope that the legislation, the debates in the House and the arguments that will be put to employers will help to overcome employer resistance. I regard that resistance as extremely short-sighted. Those who undertake reserve training are able to bring to their work capabilities and qualities, not just in terms of competence but in their characters and experience. I hope that that message will go out loud and clear to employers tonight.

Some hon. Members, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East and the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East, raised the subject of medical staff. I was disappointed that the Minister did not cover that matter in his introduction, because it was raised many times in the other place. We realise that the military have problems with anaesthetists and other medical staff. Those problems, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East pointed out, reflect the shortages of those particular competencies in many health authorities. That is a broader aspect of the problem, which should be raised with the Secretary of State for Health, but it is not solved by various national health trusts seeking to put restrictions in contracts that do not permit their medical staff to join the reserves.

I hope that, after tonight's debate and the comments made by hon. Members from all parties, the Minister will press the Secretary of State for Health, possibly through the National Employer Liaison Committee, to make it clear that those trusts are expected to acknowledge their national obligations. It is outrageous that at a time when we are telling private sector employers that they should acknowledge their obligations to national defence, part of the public sector is falling down on those obligations—not only implicitly but, in some cases, according to the British Medical Association, explicitly—and preventing qualified staff from serving their country. I hope that that point will be the subject of interdepartmental discussions.

The various consultation documents that preceded this legislation had a long gestation—as did the draft Bill—and, in many cases, they outlined the historic and honourable role of the reserve forces in our past. The Opposition hope—and I think I speak for the House—that the Bill will enable the reserves to continue that role, reinvigorated and updated, into the next millennium. We welcome the Bill and will give it positive consideration in Committee.

6.48 pm
Mr. Soames

With the leave of the House, Madam Speaker. I listened with great interest to the extremely well-informed points made during a knowledgeable debate unusually marked by a sense of common purpose—something we could use more of in such debates. I shall try to answer some of the questions raised, and will deal with others in writing or in Committee.

The hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) paid a warm tribute to the reserve forces. As to concerns about administrative support, that is carefully judged to maximise the time that volunteers can spend training—which is obviously their highest priority. I shall study the hon. Gentleman's figures in Hansard, but I have to say that I do not recognise them. I agree that all such schemes depend on effective and efficient reimbursement patterns, and I accept that they have not always been effective in the past. I warmly endorse the hon. Gentleman's sentiments about the Territorial Army, and about the splendid service given by the Welsh, and the many Territorial soldiers, sailors and airmen in Wales.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) made a typically splendid and well-informed contribution in his capacity as an Honorary Air Commodore and Honorary Inspector General of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. He made an extremely interesting speech and offered an informed history of the RAAF. I agreed with all his points and noted particularly his remarks about the frustration felt by auxiliaries at the time of the Gulf war. As my right hon. Friend knows, not only the auxiliaries were frustrated. I agree that it is extremely important to show employers that all the time, care and attention that they devote in allowing employees time off to take part in the reservists scheme is reflected at a time of national crisis and emergency, so that individuals whose skills they have carefully nurtured will be allowed on the field of honour, or as close to it as they are able to get. Employers should be able to see that the employees whom they help can exercise their skills. I was delighted to hear that the auxiliaries are doing so well. I warmly and unreservedly praise, admire and pay tribute to their splendid contribution—as does the whole House.

I was grateful to the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson)—who informed me that he would have to leave before the end of the debate—for highlighting the extraordinary care taken in consulting on the Bill, which my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) was also good enough to acknowledge. That consultation is a model for future practice, and other Departments could follow Ministry of Defence practice in this case, as in so many others. I hope that future legislation will be the subject of detailed consultation, so that it reaches the House after extensive pre-consideration.

The hon. Members for Swansea, East and for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) and many other hon. Members mentioned the medical reserves, and that it is difficult to fill some places. As the hon. Member for Warley, West said, health service trusts are struggling because there are serious shortages in some specialties. We need to keep a close eye on that aspect, and I am sure that we shall return to it in Committee.

I am extremely grateful for the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) in relation to the nine-month call-out. That was a matter of contention in the other place and was thoroughly debated. I believe that the consensus that it reached on a nine-month engagement was right. I was grateful also for the broad endorsement that the House gave that arrangement this evening. I agree with my right hon. Friend, in his capacity as colonel of a Territorial regiment and from his personal knowledge as a soldier, that all training should be as exciting as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) made the point that simulation allows formed units to do so much more training together, and I hope that the TA will be able to take advantage of it. Last weekend, I visited a company in the Mid-Sussex constituency that makes extraordinarily advanced simulation systems that will completely recast artillery training—I hope greatly to the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). The TA will be able to book training of a kind that it has never had the opportunity to undergo before.

The one-army concept is extremely important, and all who have care of or an interest in the reserves will know that the Ministry of Defence minds very much that it should become reality. I personally take on board all reservations expressed, as requiring extra effort on our part to ensure that the one-army concept becomes reality.

I listened carefully to the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton and others about Territorial Army senior appointments. We are aware of the benefit to be gained from additional senior appointments for reservists. I announced to the House last year that two additional one-star posts would be open to volunteers. My right hon. and hon. Friends forcefully expressed their well-informed views on additional officers at two-star level, and I assure them that the matter is always under consideration. I hope that we shall be able to make an announcement shortly.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) made an extremely well-informed speech, as usual, and I share his view that the Bill represents an exciting departure. Morale in the reserves depends on where one is and what one is doing. I have seen morale sky high in some places, and in others I have seen people unsure of the future. The Bill will be an important addition and a new departure for the reserves, who bring a remarkable, important and irreplaceable speciality to the field of operations. I noted the hon. and learned Gentleman's points about the high-readiness reserves, medical reserves and health service trusts, which were made also by other hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood is extremely well informed on the subject. I accept the importance of using formed units whenever possible, and noted with care my hon. Friend's remarks about using the sponsored reserves in flight training operations as uniformed personnel. I shall carefully consider that good point. If I may be indiscreet, I hope that my hon. Friend will not fret too much about the Royal Marine Reserve.

I acknowledge the remarks of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley). I met members of the Prince of Wales Own formed sub-unit detached to Split, who are doing a splendid job and are in great heart. I endorse everything said by the hon. Member for York, who made a positive and well-informed contribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) also made an extremely well-informed speech, as one would expect, on medical reserves and two-star appointments. In view of my hon. Friend's single-service predilection for the Royal Air Force—for which we all make allowances, given his service—I was grateful for his support for the sponsored reserves. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) made a brief but well-informed speech and I am grateful for his warm welcome to the Bill.

I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon for his kind words. I am glad to say that he will not have to go through the trauma that he described again on re-enlistment—next time, I shall personally supervise his call-up. I thank and praise him for his splendid service. I noted his points about Overseas Development Administration, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence liaison and about training. I should be grateful if he discussed them further with me.

We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury for all his support for the services on Salisbury plain. As my hon. Friend knows, lord-lieutenants are great and noble beasts and they deserve a declaratory clause. Quite what it is for, I do not know—but I shall let my hon. Friend know later. He paid tribute to my noble Friend Lord Margadale, than whom there was no greater servant of this House and for whom we all have huge respect. I share my hon. Friend's respect for the Bill team and for all who have made an important contribution to the debate. I thank them all, and I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).