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Armed Forces: Social Mobility

Volume 657: debated on Monday 25 March 2019

5. What progress his Department has made on promoting social mobility and equal opportunities throughout the armed forces; and if he will make a statement. (909991)

Armed forces careers are built on merit, creating an environment where potential is defined by effort and talent and not by background. The skills, education and training that they get in the armed forces give many people the chance to achieve so much not just while they serve, but when they leave.

With the appointment of Brigadier Janice Cook as head of regulation at Defence Medical Services in Lichfield and the very recent appointment of Sue Gray as Air Marshal, does this not demonstrate that there is no glass ceiling for women in the armed forces?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that there is no glass ceiling. He brings out two brilliant examples of where women in our armed forces can achieve so much and make such a difference. We all recognise that we need to get more women joining all three services. The contribution and value that they bring is enormous, and the opening up of all roles, including close combat roles, has been vitally important in doing so.

The Secretary of State must know that the British armed services used to be one of the greatest players in encouraging social mobility and equal opportunity. They used to be the greatest trainers in Britain in terms of quality, size and capacity. When will he go back to that mission of having a real training programme in the Army that is big, not tiny?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very strong point about maybe expanding our armed forces. We should feel proud that we are the largest employer of apprentices in this country—19,000 service personnel are currently in an apprenticeship—and that we continue to lead on this. The value that these apprenticeships bring is not just to the services; there is also the contribution to wider society, as service personnel often pursue a second career after they leave.

I thank the Secretary of State once again for retaining 40 Commando in Taunton. It is a momentous decision and great for Taunton. That said, only 9% of British soldiers are female. Does he agree that opening up all combat roles to women will make a real difference to our armed forces? I look forward to the first ones joining the Marines.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who did so much in campaigning to keep the Royal Marines in Taunton; they play an important role in the local community. I very much look forward to the first female recruits joining the Royal Marines. I am sure they will be welcomed by the whole corps.

In towns such as St Helens and Newton-le-Willows, the armed forces have always been a driver of social mobility and civic pride, but, like many places, we have lost our armed forces careers office. Would the Secretary of State consider reopening not just ours but others in many working-class communities across the country, upon whom the armed forces rely for their recruitment?

One of the key drivers of recruitment is increasingly online, but we need always to look at how we reach out into local communities. I remember how the Green Howards often used to visit my school in Scarborough sending out the message of what an Army career could deliver. We need to look at how we can get service personnel out into the community recruiting.