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Army Reserve

Volume 590: debated on Monday 12 January 2015

3. What assessment he has made of recent trends in recruitment to the Army Reserve; and if he will make a statement. (906896)

The trained strength of the Army Reserve at 1 October 2014 was 19,310 and we expect it to exceed our end of year target of 19,900. Enlistments in the first two quarters of the year were 62% above the equivalent period in the previous year and we expect the latest quarter to show a further increase, owing to the removal of delays in the recruitment process, the restoration to units of the key role of mentoring recruits and the new marketing campaign.

Ministers raised the age limit for Army reservists from 43 to 52 after recruiting, as I understand it, only 20 new reservists—somewhat short of the 30,000 they were aiming for to cover the cutting of 20,000 personnel from the Regular Army. Recently in east Yorkshire, there has been filming for the new “Dad’s Army”, so I wondered whether Ministers thought it might be appropriate for the cast to keep their uniforms on.

In the latest six months, 2,130 recruits were enlisted into the Army Reserve. I ask the hon. Lady to think very carefully before making jokes about the Army Reserve. Whatever policy differences there are, 30 members of the reserve forces—24 of them from the Territorial Army—have died on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Recruiting for the cyber-reserves is on course in all three services, but I am afraid that I am not allowed to give any details of the planned structure, for obvious security reasons.

Reservists in the Royal Army Nursing Corps are putting themselves in significant danger as they are called up to serve in Sierra Leone to help combat Ebola. Why is the Ministry of Defence refusing to pay those brave people their operational allowance?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s admiration of those people, and I was privileged to see them off just before Christmas. I note that the senior nursing officer in the rotation—effectively the commander in the red zone on the current operation—is herself a reservist.

To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly, those people are entitled to a number of other allowances, and we are looking at the moment at the issue that he mentions. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will write to him when it has been determined.

The latest MOD figures show that the trained strength of the Army Reserve has actually fallen over the past 18 months. Can the Minister inform the House of the extra cost that has been incurred, over and above the original estimates, to encourage recruitment? The MOD’s continued silence on that suggests either embarrassment or ignorance.

On my hon. and gallant Friend’s first question, by looking back 18 months he is looking back past the bottom of the trough. The past six to nine months have been much more encouraging, and the next quarter is expected to be even better.

My hon. and gallant Friend has asked his second question again and again, and we have explained that, although we acknowledge that there are some extra costs, there is no way that we can separate them from the whole picture. Some of them are one-off costs, and some of them are connected with regular recruiting as well—we have to remind people, post-Afghanistan and so on, that we are recruiting.

The original plan to reform the reserve force stated that a force of 30,000 would be required by 2018. That was pushed back to April 2019, and last week in The Times, well informed sources in the MOD suggested that the date may well be pushed back even further. Can the Minister confirm exactly when the 30,000 strength will actually be met?

We are still firmly committed to April 2019 as the target date. As I have mentioned, recruiting has increased substantially. If we look at the latest quarter as opposed to the latest six months, we see that it has roughly doubled. Over the past six months it is up 62%, but over the second half of that period it has gone up even faster, and we expect a further continuation of that positive trend. We are firmly committed to April 2019.