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Volume 570: debated on Monday 4 November 2013

10. What recent assessment the Government have made of how many reservists need to be recruited as part of the Army Reserve plan to replace regular troops from the disbanded units. (900862)

I should make it clear to the hon. Gentleman, as I have already this afternoon, that we are not recruiting reservists simply to replace regular troops from disbanded units. We are changing the structure and functions within the Army, creating a whole force of regulars, reservists, civilians and contractors that will make the best use of our resources and harness the talents across the whole of UK society. As I have already said, the Army is finalising a set of recruiting targets that will at different points over the next four years deliver the numbers into training that we need to achieve the challenging goal of 30,000 trained reservists by 2018.

Given that the Secretary of State is constantly moving the goalposts and that we know that he will not recruit the number of reservists that he needs, why does he not reinstate the two battalions of the Royal Fusiliers? That will give him the manpower he needs, so why does he not retrain those people?

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets his information from, but as I said earlier we are five weeks into a five-year recruiting campaign, and I do not see anything about his track record that would lead me to give any particular credence to his prediction about how successful that campaign will be.

In supporting my right hon. Friend’s robust stance, may I urge him to look into the truly staggering level of delays and mistakes in the Army enlistment process? Will he urge the Army recruiting group to prove it is serious by at least getting Army recruiting offices open on evenings or at weekends?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question and freely acknowledge that there have been teething problems with the IT support systems for the recruiting campaigns for the Regular Army and Army Reserve. I was in the Army recruiting centre myself last week with the Chief of the General Staff. This matter has the highest level of attention, both ministerial and military, and a number of initiatives will be implemented over the next few days and weeks that I expect to deliver a significant improvement in the areas that my hon. Friend highlights.

I suspect that we will experience regional variations in recruitment, with it being more difficult in some localities than in others. In answer to Question 1, the Secretary of State mentioned that he will produce certain data. Among those data, will there also be an indication of where there are difficulties and what extra efforts are being made at those locations?

The targets that we will publish will be national, but the hon. Gentleman is right that there will be different recruiting challenges in different parts of the country. The job for us is to ensure that the Army recruiting centre, the senior officers responsible for it and their recruitment partners, Capita, are agile enough to respond to the data coming in from the front line in the recruitment campaign and flex that campaign accordingly. The plan will not be implemented without change over five years; it will be highly responsive and we will monitor it regularly.

As the Secretary of State has confirmed again today that failure to achieve the reservist recruitment numbers is not an option, surely there is now no difficulty in his repeating the pledge given by his predecessor that the Regular Army will not be cut until those reservists are recruited.

Any such pledge would be an unfunded spending commitment. We must live within the envelope of resources that we have available, and we have to restructure the armed forces to deliver the configuration we need for Future Force 2020. That means drawing down some regular units and providing support from reserve units, civilians and contractors for some tasks that were previously done within the Regular Army.