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Reserve Forces

Volume 577: debated on Monday 17 March 2014

3. What progress his Department has made on its planned increase in the activity of reserves in Cornwall. (903046)

I know my hon. Friend is concerned about the future of reserves in her constituency following the proposed relocation of D company, 6th Rifles, and I welcome her strong interest in this issue on behalf of her constituents. I understand that my predecessor, my right hon. Friend for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan), gave her a commitment that we would look closely at this decision, but that examination is not yet complete.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. We have had good news in Cornwall about more RAF reservists being stationed at RAF St Mawgan, but the continued uncertainty about the future of The Rifles in Cornwall is a major concern. People in Cornwall want to support their country and to have the opportunity to serve as Army reservists. May I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to make a speedy, and the right, decision to enable people to serve from Truro?

I stress to my hon. Friend that we are not closing the Truro Army Reserve centre, which will remain the home of elements of both medical and logistics units, as well as supporting local cadet forces in any event. However, I do understand the strong historical attachment The Rifles have to Cornwall, so I hope to be able to give her a clear answer on this matter in the near future.

Whether people are seeking to join the reserves in Cornwall or in any other part of the country, everyone I talk to says it is still taking too long from the point at which they express an interest in joining the reserves to the point at which they are subsequently enlisted. What is the Minister doing and what more can be done to speed up that process, so we can get more people serving in the reserves—in Cornwall and in the rest of the country?

I am glad to be able to say to the hon. Gentleman, whom I know in view of his past service takes a close interest in these matters, that we have reduced some of the bureaucracy in the process—we have simplified the forms and some of the medical procedures—and we launched a new recruitment campaign in January, the benefits of which are beginning to feed through. The process was too bureaucratic; it is less so now, and it is beginning to work.

May I urge the Minister, when considering the move of The Rifles from Truro to Barnstaple, to recognise that the Army Reserve centre in Barnstaple is the only opportunity for people to participate in the Army Reserve, covering an area from west Somerset down to North Cornwall? If we are to achieve the targets we set ourselves nationally for increasing the size of the reserves, it is very important that people in all communities, however rural, have a realistic opportunity to participate in the reserves.

I understand the point being made by the hon. Gentleman, a predecessor of mine in this job. We are looking to grow the Army Reserve in Cornwall and in Devon, and indeed across the whole United Kingdom.