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Reserve Forces

Volume 561: debated on Monday 15 April 2013

3. What recent discussions he has had with employers to encourage their support for the expansion of reserve forces. (150730)

Reserve forces have a central role to play in delivering national defence and security—what they do matters to our nation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State attended two national workshops in January with a range of employers to discuss our vision of a transformed relationship based on mutual benefits. I am very pleased that at these workshops and in other responses from employers to November’s Green Paper consultation, there has been broad and constructive support for our proposals. In the lead-up to the planned publication of the future reserves 2020 White Paper later in the spring, we will continue to engage with employers and employer groups such as the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses.

Will the Minister confirm that our target for additional reserve recruitment could be met by less than one third of 1% of the younger working-age population and that the employers in question would benefit enormously from the positive attitude, outlook and determination of employees who take up reserve training?

My hon. Friend knows something about this matter personally, because he himself served in the Territorial Army some years ago, and is absolutely right about the benefit that reservists can offer to their employers. I am pleased to say that a number of employers recognised that in their response to the consultation. On his good point about numbers, I would just say that when I served as a TA infantry officer in the 1980s—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!] Thank you—employer support was an issue then too. We managed then to get to 75,000 trained soldiers in the TA with a smaller population than we have now, so I have to believe that we can get to 30,000 now.

Will the Government introduce legislation to deal with employers who discriminate against reservists, especially in relation to hiring procedures?

I am aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. Our instinct is to try and garner employer support voluntarily, as it were, but we are aware of the issue and intend to address it in our response in the White Paper.

I suggest that expressions of support and troops and boots on the ground are two different things. Given the widespread concerns about defence cuts and force generation factors, how confident is the Minister that the plan to plug the gap left by the loss of 20,000 regular troops will not prove to be a false economy?

As I think I have already said, I am confident that we can do this, based not least on my own experience and that of my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who, as my hon. Friend will know, was a Territorial Army officer in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers—the same regiment to which he belonged.

We all wish the Government’s reservist White Paper to be a success. Within existing competition rules, would the Minister consider MOD procurement processes that take into account whether companies support reservists? I wish to return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr Roy). Current legislation protects reservists returning from the front line, but no equivalent employment legislation protects them from the minority of employers who discriminate against reservists in their hiring processes. Although the Minister has held out against such legislation in the consultation, will he at least consult employers large and small to see whether there is an appetite to prevent that small number of employers from discriminating against those who protect our nation?

In some ways the right hon. Gentleman has, for honourable reasons, asked a similar question to his hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr Roy), who sits on the Benches behind him. We are aware of the issue and intend to address it directly when we publish the White Paper later in the spring. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has offered bipartisan support in principle for the White Paper and the process of growing our reserves, which clearly we welcome.

Leading by example, will the Minister say how many civilians employed by the Ministry of Defence have joined the reserve forces since 1 January?

I am not sure I can give my hon. Friend a precise number for how many have joined since 1 January, but I am willing to write and give him a number for how many in the Ministry of Defence are serving in the reserve forces. I am also happy to provide that information to the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). I am sure that, like me, he will agree with the remarks of the chairman of Durham county council, Councillor Linda Marshall, who said:

“Reservist employees are better at problem solving, they are good negotiators…their confidence grows throughout their training.”

If we can do it in Durham with the support of the county council, we can do it elsewhere.