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Armed Forces Personnel

Volume 663: debated on Monday 8 July 2019

We remain committed to maintaining the overall size of the armed forces, including the Army. A range of measures are under way to improve recruitment and retention, and those measures are kept under constant review. Importantly, the services continue to meet all their current commitments, keeping the country and its interests safe.

The Minister, along with every other Conservative Member of Parliament who was elected or re-elected in 2015, was elected on a manifesto promise that there would be a standing Army of 82,000. That has never been achieved since 2015, and, indeed, on 1 April the size of the fully trained Army was down to 75,000. The Minister may claim that the Government are meeting their commitments, but one commitment that they are not meeting is the commitment to an Army of the size that they promised in their manifesto. Is that still their policy, and, if not, can the Minister tell us at what point the policy was dropped?

Let us just see whether we can debunk this myth that Army numbers are somehow in freefall. On 1 May, the total size of the British Army, including the Brigade of Gurkhas, both trained and untrained, was 85,430. As of 1 June, one month later, according to the most recent figures that we have, the total size of the British Army, including the Brigade of Gurkhas, both trained and untrained, was 85,730. That is an increase of 300.

In 2010, there were 30,000 more fully trained armed forces personnel than there are today. Does that concern the Minister and does it concern the Government, and if it does not, why not?

As we enter the 21st century, we must accept that the armed forces are about more than simply mass. That is precisely why we are investing in technology, and it is why the battlefield of the 21st century will be a very different beast from that of the 20th. I am concerned about the drop below that figure that we have seen in recent years, but, as I have just demonstrated, we are turning the supertanker around. The size of the trained strength of the British Army can only be increased if it has untrained recruits. As I have demonstrated, we are now seeing an increase in the number of people joining the Army, and that is a positive development.

By when does the Minister think that the size of the Army will reach the Government’s target of just 82,000 fully trained personnel?

I am not going to predict exactly what that date will be. We are seeing an increase month on month, but that does not apply to all establishments: for example, Sandhurst has only three intakes per year and Harrogate has only one. I cannot give the exact date when the target will be hit, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would really expect me to, but I believe that we are now heading firmly in the right direction.

I visited Carterton Community College last week and observed the striking success of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics programme set up there by RAF Brize Norton. Does the Minister agree that such programmes not only teach young people important life skills, but provide the inspiration that may lead them to take up careers in the Royal Air Force or other armed forces, which will help to increase service numbers?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Indeed, there are many good reasons why young people would wish to join the armed forces, not least because our armed forces are now the largest provider of apprenticeships in the United Kingdom.

In 2012 we had 220,000 armed forces personnel; that number is now 190,000. Are there things that we were doing that we are no longer doing, or have we maintained operational readiness with fewer people?

That is quite a complicated question, particularly when we get into the question of readiness and the ability to hold people at the appropriate readiness for the threat that we face. As I have said, technology has changed significantly; for example, not every aircraft we have in the air is now manned by a pilot. We are investing in a number of things which mean that we require less overall manpower to deliver the effect we require in the 21st century.