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Volume 586: debated on Monday 20 October 2014

All the reserve forces have worked to simplify their application procedures, including through streamlined online processes and shorter medical forms. We have increased capacity in Army recruitment and selection centres, and more mentoring and support for candidates is being provided by their chosen unit. Early indications of those measures are promising, and Army Reserve enlistments over the summer quarter, traditionally the quarter when enlistments are lowest by far, are running at roughly double the levels of last year.

I welcome my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour to his appointment as reserves Minister. The Gurkhas are a much-valued force within the British Army. Would the MOD be prepared to consider creating a Gurkha company within the reserves, if that would help to boost the number of Gurkhas who seek to join the reserves after their retirement or of their children who seek to do so?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind welcoming of my unexpected mobilisation. We are indeed looking at ways in which we can get more ex-Gurkhas to join the Army Reserve, but there are legal and practical reasons against establishing a separate Gurkha reserve unit. Given their experience, there are great benefits in ex-Gurkha personnel joining a whole range of Army Reserve units. Gurkhas leaving the Army receive briefs on reserve service as part of their transition support, and we have a programme of using ex-Gurkha reservists to visit Gurkha units to provide case studies of what can be expected.

I am not a defence expert, but I do chair a skills commission, and I know about the market for certain skills. Is not the problem that the whole reserve policy is bound to fail, because these days most people in our country work for small and medium-sized enterprises that do not allow, or have the capacity for, people to serve as reservists?

I hugely respect the hon. Gentleman, but I should tell him that these targets are extremely low compared with either our national history or targets in our English-speaking counterparts. A whole range of larger businesses has come on board, 10 of which have already been over to Downing street for their gold awards. As a special incentive for the employers of SMEs, we are offering £500 a month over and above the other award they can get if someone is mobilised. The various branches of Government, including the civil service, are all on the move. This can and will be done.

Clearly, this is a welcome scheme. What more can be done to promote it to small businesses as a way of encouraging them to be happy about people being reservists?

We are making use of every possible route. The Federation of Small Businesses is particularly active and helpful on this. The Reserve Forces and Cadets Association and Supporting Britain's Reservists and Employers—SaBRE—which now comes under it, are providing advice to small businesses. A small business connection with just seven employees expressed his concern through a family friend about taking on a reservist. I was able to put him in touch with those organisations and provide reassuring messages. A pack will come out shortly showing how individual MPs can help.

The South Wales valleys have traditionally been a recruitment source for the regulars and the reserves, and long may that continue for those young people who wish to pursue such a career. The valleys are also characterised by a huge proportion of small and medium-sized enterprises. Will the Minister monitor the success of this approach, and has he set targets internally on how he will measure his success with SMEs?

We are looking at the employment market of reservists in a segmented fashion, but we do not have separate targets for separate sectors. We want to make progress in all areas—Government, large businesses, SMEs and self-employed as well as students, who are now a crucial element and of particular interest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.