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Armed Forces: Overall Size

Volume 678: debated on Monday 6 July 2020

What steps his Department has taken to maintain the overall size of the armed forces as set out in the 2015 strategic defence and security review. (904211)

What steps his Department has taken to maintain the overall size of the armed forces as set out in the 2015 strategic defence and security review. (904235)

Since 2015 we have introduced many measures to respond to a difficult armed forces recruitment and retention climate. These include financial incentives, flexible service, the recruitment partnership project, the future accommodation model, and improved childcare. We saw improved recruitment figures of 31% from 2018-19. The size of the armed forces should always be dictated by the threat, UK global ambition, and modern technology.

The Army’s strength, though, is still woefully short of the Government’s target. Those wanting to join our Army were faced with Capita’s bureaucratic processes, which could take up to 52 months. So will the Secretary of State tell us what is the average length of time taken to get through the Army recruitment processes now?

The hon. Gentleman makes some valid points. However, due to the extra effort we have put into the Army recruiting process, the Army has now in fact hit its recruitment target, and was on target to do so even before covid broke, to have depots full and to deliver an armed forces at the right strength, growing the armed forces, not shrinking them.

Can the Secretary of State categorically deny reports that No. 10 wishes to slash the size of the Army from 74,000 to 55,000 personnel? If he cannot do that, will he at least confirm to this House that he personally opposes any plan to reduce the size of the armed forces?

I can confirm that there is no plan to slash the size of the armed forces. The reports in The Sunday Times were completely erroneous, as was made clear to the journalist at the time. Our armed forces should always be defined by the threat we face as a nation, the capabilities we have, and Britain’s global ambition. That is why, in the integrated review, we will deal with those processes rather than start the debate about numbers.

Will the Secretary of State bring forward the integrated review? He is aware of the importance of this in confirming our capabilities, but also in terms of existing emerging threats, not least Britain’s ambitions and place in the world. We are witnessing a seismic shift in power from the east to the west. Is it not time for us to recalibrate our foreign policy in order to recognise this changing threat, and the fact that China is rewriting the international global rules?

I feel my right hon. Friend’s sense of urgency about getting this review done. He will also know that SDSR after SDSR, under Governments of both colours, often failed because they were never in step with the spending plans of the Government, and we ended up with SDSRs that were over-ambitious and underfunded. It is really important that the integrated review reports at the same time as the comprehensive spending review, which is due in the autumn. We must also learn the lessons from the recent covid outbreak, which shows how important resilience is, and feed that into the review to make sure that it is as up to date as possible.

I would like to start by commending our excellent armed forces for their exemplary service to the public during the covid-19 period.

Over the past decade, this Government have severely cut the size of our armed forces. We have had three very good questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) and for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), and from the Chair of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), yet the Secretary of State has refused to answer the real question, which is this: will he increase the recruitment and retention of armed forces personnel—yes or no?

Recruitment is up, as is retention. That is the direction of travel. That is what we are delivering for our armed forces. It is very clear that our armed forces are growing, as is our defence spending, which is our commitment.