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Army Recruiting Policy

Volume 548: debated on Monday 16 July 2012

4. What plans he has for Army recruiting policy in the next five years; and if he will make a statement. (116893)

Recruiting remains one of the Army’s highest priorities. Given that it is an organisation that promotes from within, there is an enduring need to ensure that the Army has the capacity to take on an appropriate number of new recruits. Our recruiting targets are already reflecting those required for a regular Army of 82,000, with current planned annual recruitment figures of approximately 600 officers and 7,400 soldiers.

I am interested in the Minister’s reply, especially in the light of the Secretary of State’s statement on recruitment the week before last. The trouble is that recruiting takes a long time, and if we need troops to be instantly available—as we have done for the Olympic games—we surely need to rethink the cuts to major units, particularly the five infantry battalions.

I know that my hon. Friend was responsible for recruiting in his last job in the Army; he was director of Army recruiting, and I pay tribute to him for that. He will know that making these cuts to the Army is not something that we would have wished to do; they were forced upon us by the appalling financial position that was left behind—

Groundhog day it may be, but it is also true. I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) says about recruiting taking a long time, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State understands the difficulty of raising extra troops at short notice.

Some of the brightest and bravest soldiers have traditionally been recruited in Yorkshire, but the people of Yorkshire are pretty savvy, and they know that the critical mass of our armed forces is such that joining up has a declining attraction for young men and women in the present situation.

I pay tribute to the soldiers from Yorkshire. They join not only the Yorkshire regiments but the Coldstream Guards, with whom I served, and other corps throughout the British Army. Joining the Army remains an attractive option, and I would recommend it to anyone. It is sad that fewer people are joining at the moment.

I am sure that the Minister will be pleased that the Secretary of State gave an assurance to the Defence Select Committee last week that the decisions to cut the Army would be revisited in 2015. Alongside welcoming that, will the Minister give me an assurance that recruiting policy will look again at the Pay As You Dine arrangements?

I am not entirely sure that my right hon. Friend did give that assurance, but no doubt the hon. Gentleman can discuss that with him. The decisions were made by the Army itself—by generals looking carefully at future recruiting patterns—and I am sure that they will keep the matter under constant review as well.

I understand that Pay As You Dine was introduced at the request of members of the armed forces under the last Administration. Although not universally popular, it does mean that people pay less for food that they often did not eat under the old system.

Wales has an excellent reputation for recruiting into the Army, and the loss of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh has come as a huge blow there. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that Welsh men and women who wish to join Welsh regiments will continue to do so following the loss of the 2nd Battalion?

As I have said, I think that everyone regrets the loss of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Wales, but Welsh men and women do join the armed forces. Welsh men join the Welsh Guards; they join all the corps, and so forth. I spent 15 years in the Army until I was kicked out, and I think that it still provides a very attractive career for any young man or woman.