By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced plans to bring the Territorial Army – or Army Reserve, as it will be known in future – up to the size and standard of a more professional level than the reputation the TA has sometimes had as being "weekend soldiers". He also announced more benefits for employers of soldiers who chose to serve with the Army Reserve. These are all ideas suggested by the Duke of Westminster, which I wrote about last month. The proposals for strengthening the role and duties of reservists was, mostly, met with a positive reception by Conservative MPs. Below are some of the best contributions to yesterdays' statement.
Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox wanted Philip Hammond to learn from international examples of reservist forces:
"Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): I very much welcome the creative and supportive way in which my right hon. Friend set out the Government’s approach to the reserves. Will any legislative changes be required to guarantee that reservists can be used for the full range of military tasks? As part of the consultation, will the Government make available to the House the experiences of how other countries incentivise employers? Other countries, particularly the United States, have a much better record than most of being able to use reservists in a full range of tasks and ensuring that they have a full range of promotional opportunities."
James Arbuthnot, who chairs the Defence Select Committee, highlighted the "enormous benefits" of "employing people with the work ethic" that reservists show:
"Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this statement, and I know that he will agree with me that the House will also wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), without whose persistence this statement would not have taken place. I declare an interest, in that my daughter is a reservist second lieutenant.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is so important that this proposal succeeds that it deserves a campaign led by the Prime Minister and, I suggest, the Leader of the Opposition, as well as the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Secretary of State for Defence, to encourage employers to recognise the enormous benefits that they will get from employing people with the work ethic and the discipline that reservists show every day?"
John Glen wanted to unleash the "great enthusiasm" small business owners have for allowing employees to serve as reservists:
"John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I acknowledge the broad support of the Federation of Small Businesses and the massive contribution made by large employers, but may I ask the Secretary of State to reflect on the situation of micro-businesses and businesses that have between five and 10 employees? It is crucial to develop a realistic package to provide the incentives for business owners to release their staff to participate, particularly in areas such as Salisbury, where there is great enthusiasm to do so."
There were, of course, some MPs who saw problems with the proposals. Edward Leigh considered the possibility of a reduction in the number of willing recruits:
"Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): When I joined the TA, there was no difficulty in getting recruits. There was Monday night in the drill hall with one’s chums, the occasional weekend on Salisbury plain, and two weeks’ camp in Germany. Is there not a real problem now, however, in that the Secretary of State is asking people to devote perhaps one year in five to being in a very challenging and dangerous environment such as Afghanistan? What will happen if we simply do not get the recruits? Does that point not underline the importance of maintaining the standing regular Army, rather than relying on future projections of TA numbers that may not materialise?
Mr Hammond: There are different types of recruits and, to put it frankly, I say with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend that someone who is looking to join up in order to prop up a bar on a Monday night and have an occasional outing on Salisbury plain is probably not the person we are looking for. All the discussions I have had with reservists suggest to me that they want to be taken seriously, and they know that a higher training tariff, a greater focus on skills and much more working together with the regular Army—sharing the burden of routine tasks and routine deployments with it—is the way to increase the esteem in which the reserve is held.
What we are doing on the size of the regular Army is determined by the budgetary envelope we have as a result of the black hole in the defence budget that we inherited. The exercise announced today is about ensuring that, notwithstanding that necessity, we maintain the military capacity we need in the future."
The full statement and debate can be read on Hansard here.