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This Briefing has been prepared in advance of the debate in the House of Lords on the motion moved by Lord De Mauley (Conservative) that “this House takes note of the contribution of the armed forces reserves to national security”. This debate is scheduled to take place on 21 June 2018, prior to Reserves Day which takes place on 27 June 2018.

Over recent decades, the role of the armed forces reserves has changed. While the reserves have retained their role providing support to regular personnel, since the end of the Cold War the size of reserve forces has reduced. The reserve forces have also taken part in a number of post-Cold War conflicts such as in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. This is in addition to providing support following natural disasters in the UK, such as during the flooding in Cumbria in 2009 and 2015 and in Somerset in 2014.

The Coalition Government and subsequent Conservative governments, under both David Cameron and Theresa May, have sought to increase the size and role of the armed forces reserves. Both these governments have maintained that greater use of reserves offers the opportunity to import skills from outside the military and that reservists could supplement the work of regular personnel so that their specialist military expertise can be used more cost-effectively.

However, this expansion has proved controversial as it has taken place at the same time as a reduction to the number of regular personnel following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. MPs and Members of the House of Lords have criticised the expansion of the reserves at the same time as the reduction in the number of regular personnel, arguing that it could damage the overall effectiveness of the UK armed forces because of difficulties in recruiting and retaining reservists and maintained their readiness.

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