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Reserve Forces: Recruitment

Volume 598: debated on Monday 13 July 2015

Six thousand, eight hundred and ten personnel joined the reserve forces in the last financial year, an increase of 65% on the year before. We have made significant improvements to recruiting processes, the offer to reservists and the support we give employers. As a result, recruitment continues to improve, and we remain committed to meeting our overall target.

I congratulate the Minister not only on the fantastic decision to spend 2% of GDP on our armed forces but on his decision to save William Coltman House, the Army reservist centre in Burton. Will he join me in commending Major Marvin Bargrove and everybody else involved for their work in increasing recruitment and showing people in Burton the opportunities that are available through being part of our reservist force?

I share my hon. Friend’s delight both at the announcement of the 2% commitment and at the fact that we have been able to save the centre in Burton. He will be aware that 4 Mercian, which has a detachment there, has recently been deployed in a number of interesting exercises, as well as providing two formed platoons for an operational deployment in Cyprus.

What progress has the Department made in getting employers to recognise the benefits of their employees becoming reservists, and of hiring reservists?

This year, we have already awarded 160 new bronze awards and 25 new silver awards for employers. We are also building links between companies in industry sectors and their equivalent reserves. For example, the Royal Signals is formalising links with BT, Vodafone, HP and Virgin Media; Defence Medical Services has an excellent arrangement with the NHS; and the Military Provost Service is partnering with Serco.

I, too, welcome the 2% commitment, which will ensure that the right level of reserves will be reached.

Does the Minister agree that it is absolutely right that reservists who see action get the right equipment to protect them, which would include the use of drones manufactured by some of my constituents at BAE Systems?

The 2% commitment enables us to reconfirm the additional £1.8 billion for the reserves. All reservists today are routinely supplied with the same uniform and personal equipment as their regular counterparts, and last year we were able to bring forward earlier than expected £45 million of investment for dismounted close combat equipment. I am afraid that it is above my pay grade to answer my hon. Friend’s question about drones.

The Prime Minister has said today that he wants an increase in the number of special forces. Given our armed forces’ greater reliance on reservists, what are the Minister and the Government doing to ensure that we still have a good pool from which to pick our special forces?

As a former Defence Minister, the hon. Gentleman will know that Ministers of the Crown never talk about special forces in the Chamber. On his wider point about the size of the pool in the armed forces as a whole, our commitment, as shown most recently by the 2% announcement, is to outstanding armed forces in quality and equipment.

I understand that the coroner is due to give his judgment shortly, possibly tomorrow, in the case of the reservists who died in the Brecon Beacons. Will the Minister undertake to come to the House and make a statement following that judgment?

Two weeks ago the Secretary of State said that he was confident that the Government’s target for reserve recruitment would be met. He said that the programme was “now back on schedule”. However, last month the Major Projects Authority downgraded the Future Reserves 2020 project from “doubtful” to “unachievable”. Who is right, the Major Projects Authority or the Secretary of State?

The Major Projects Authority reviewed the Future Reserves 2020 programme almost a year ago, in September 2014. By convention the review is published six months behind, and because of purdah and the election it was published something like 10 months behind. A great deal of water has flowed under the bridge since then.

Indeed. Last week’s Budget Red Book committed the Government to maintaining a Regular Army of 82,000, but there was no mention of reserve forces. Can the Minister confirm whether the target of 30,000 reservists announced at the beginning of the process will be met?

The target of 30,000 Army reservists—indeed, 35,000 trained reservists across the three services—was firmly in the Conservative party’s manifesto, and this Conservative Government are committed to delivering it.

I warmly welcome the maintenance of that target, and I congratulate the Minister on what has been achieved so far. He will recall that the purpose of the target was to enable the reserve and regular forces to be interoperable—change backwards and forwards between each other. A reserve force was to do precisely the same job as the regulars who, in the case of the Army, we were then cutting by 20,000. Will he confirm that the excellent plan that he laid out before the last election—and which has been laid out consistently in the House since—will remain? Will there be any change in that way that we use reserves?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government do not accept that the expansion of the reserves was a direct swap with regulars in the way that he describes. The purposes of the reserve forces were set out in the commission—which, as he says, carried my signature—and were threefold: to provide extra capacity at slightly lower readiness; to provide skills not available to the military; and to rebuild the connection between the military and society. We are committed to all those things, and the commitment of £1.8 billion over the next 10 years for reserves, which was recently reaffirmed by the 2% commitment to defence spending, further underlies that.

If the Minister would look at the House we would all be deeply obliged to him. I understand the natural temptation to turn round, but if he could face the House it would be helpful.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to increase by 10% the number of our armed forces from ethnic minorities. Can the Minister confirm that that will include members of the reserve forces?

Yes, I can. We are strongly committed to our black, Asian and minority ethnic targets. It is a fact that the attraction of UK citizens from ethnic minorities—as opposed to Commonwealth citizens—to the reserve forces, has consistently run ahead of figures for the regular forces.