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Reserve Forces (Recruitment)

Volume 596: debated on Monday 8 June 2015

Six thousand eight hundred and ten personnel joined the reserves in financial year 2014-15, a rise of 65% on the previous financial year. For 2012-13, the only statistics available are for the Army reserve, with 3,960 joining that year. We have made significant improvements to the recruiting process, the offer to reservists and the support we give to employers. We continue to look at further improvements to build on this considerable growth.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Can he explain what plans his Department has to celebrate reserves day later this month, and will he encourage hon. Members to support it in their constituencies?

Reserves day is an important opportunity for colleagues in the House to support the reserves. It was called uniform to work day, and a number of hon. Members took part in it. Reserve forces and cadets associations will tell colleagues about opportunities to support the event, including an opportunity in the House of Commons for Members and researchers, both existing members of the reserves and those who are interested in joining.

The 37 Signal Regiment reservists, who are based in my constituency, do an amazing job and have been awarded the freedom of our borough. Will my hon. Friend inform the House how future reserve proposals will help the regiment to continue its brilliant work?

I join my hon. Friend in her tribute to the 37 Signal Regiment, which has deployed personnel on operations to Afghanistan, as well as on recent exercises in Belize, Gibraltar, Germany and Cyprus, and has provided essential work to the civil authorities in the UK. Army reserve units are paired with, and train alongside, regular units and, when required, may deploy with them—in 37’s case, with 16 Signal Regiment, as she knows. Reserves have the same access to equipment and technology as their regular counterparts, and receive high-quality, challenging training, including more opportunities to exercise overseas.

I see the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) has perambulated to a different part of the Chamber, and is not where we are accustomed to seeing him—but I can still see him.

May I first congratulate my hon. Friend on his tremendous support and enthusiasm for the reserves, which is very well taken? He is aware of my connection with the Royal Yeomanry, but is he aware that it is the best recruiting regiment in the reserves? That is not just because it has made good use of what the central facility provides but because it does a lot of it itself, and takes a lot of trouble over recruiting. Will he emphasise to all the other reserve units that they can do a great deal themselves to encourage people in their regimental family to get more people into the reserves?

I am always delighted to take a question from my right hon. Friend, whose illustrious grandfather was a long-serving member of the Territorial Army. He is quite right about the Royal Yeomanry’s achievements. I visited it twice in the past year, and in many ways it is a trailblazer. The key point that he makes about empowering units to do more to help themselves, including devolving some of the marketing budgets—something that we have begun to do—is very well taken.

I do not have the exact age of reservist recruits, but the current average of the Army Reserve is 37. If the hon. Gentleman is thinking of joining, I am sure we can put him in touch with somebody.

14. Recent personnel statistics show that nearly a third of the armed forces are dissatisfied with military life, so what provisions are in place to ensure that this troubling figure is reduced? (900128)

There is no single bullet. The armed forces have come through a difficult time, with a combination of downsizing of the numbers in the Army as a result of the £38 billion black hole, and the end of operations in Afghanistan, which for many young men and women was an attractor. But measures ranging from the purchase of new equipment to an almost unparalleled number of overseas exercises, together with a fresh look at the terms and conditions of service, are all designed to address the issue that the hon. Gentleman points to.

I welcome the Minister back to his position and congratulate the two new members of the Defence team. In the run-up to the election the Prime Minister pledged that regular personnel numbers would not be reduced, but we heard last week about the first down payment from the Defence budget as a result of the Chancellor’s cuts. Can the Minister give an assurance that the target set by the previous Government for reservists will be met and funded?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome, and the same applies to him. It is always a pleasure to spar across the Dispatch Box. The Conservative manifesto was clear about expanding the number of reservists across the three services to 35,000. The funding is there through the £1.8 billion that was provided over a 10-year period, and the current strengths are running ahead of schedule in all three volunteer reserve services.

Order. At this point I appeal for slightly snappier questions and answers because we have a lot to get through.