We are committed to maintaining the overall size of the armed forces, including an Army that is able to field a war-fighting division. While Army recruitment and retention remain challenging, over 8,000 people joined the regular Army last year and since April applications are over 20% higher compared with the same period last year.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but in the year I was born—1989—the Regular Army’s strength was 140,000. In 2006, when I joined the Territorials, it was 102,000. Yet, in recent years, we have seen the Army fall below a regular strength of 82,000—the Government’s stated target—to only 80,000, and that includes a 40% fall in the armoured strength of the Army. Does the Minister not accept that this is an unacceptable degradation of British Army strength?
No, I do not. It is important to note that the Army is currently 95% manned. I do accept that there are challenges. Having probably the highest employment rate we have had in recent years does not help when it comes to recruiting to the Army. There is also, as we discussed earlier, the changing nature of Britain, which means we have to fight harder to make sure that all parts of society will join the Army. However, this is also about the offer, and I must say that when the Leader of the Opposition says he cannot see a situation where he would deploy the Army overseas, that is hardly a good recruiting tool to get young people who want to join the Army to do exactly that.
The latest figures show that the Army is running at 6% under the number of personnel needed, with the gap growing. How understaffed do we need to be before the Secretary of State will put pressure on the Chancellor to lift the 1% pay cap to boost recruitment?
The Army, as I say, is 95% recruited and quite capable of fulfilling all its commitments. I am pleased there will be some flexibility in how we apply pay—of course, we have the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which sets it. It is important to have some flexibility so that we can attract people into the skill sets we are currently short of.
Can my hon. Friend confirm or deny whether there is any truth in the current media speculation that the UK armed forces are about to be subsumed into a European defence force to placate the European Union?
Blimey! That really is speculation. No, I think I can absolutely scupper that one.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Yeovil’s multi-role Wildcat helicopters ably support and protect our Army units and could be upgraded with missiles even better to support more focused strike brigades?
Of course, those are just some of the questions we are considering under the ongoing national security capability review, the purpose of which is to decide how best we can use the money we are investing in our armed forces to maximise their capability.
On the basis of the Minister’s first answer, can he guarantee that the Army’s strength will not drop below 80,000?
We continue to work hard to ensure we have new recruits coming. As I say, the news this year is positive: we have over 8,000 recruits, which is up 20% on last year.