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Armed Forces: Redundancies

Volume 736: debated on Monday 26 March 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proportion of service men and women being made redundant from the Armed Forces are expected to be between the ages of 18 and 24.

My Lords, as a result of the strategic defence and security review and the comprehensive spending review, it has been necessary to plan for redundancies in both the Civil Service and the Armed Forces to restore public finances and to better equip and shape the forces for the future. I can advise that some 12 per cent of those selected for redundancy in tranche one of the Armed Forces redundancy programme were aged 24 or below—that is, some 350 people. Selections for tranche two have yet to take place.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I venture to suggest that the number will end up somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000, but we shall wait to see in due course. These young people will leave the services having been trained at taxpayers’ expense for war—a profession that does not read across easily to other professions. We may well find that they will have great difficulty in getting employment thereafter and merely add to the 1 million unemployed 18 to 24 year-olds. Last year, the Government added £1 billion to the programme. The absurdity is that those made redundant are going to be replaced by the Territorial Army.

My question is coming. They are going to be replaced by the Territorial Army, which is composed of part-timers whereas those being made redundant are full-timers, whose members will have two jobs, two wages and two paymasters. Will the Government reconsider this issue? It would be perfectly possible to continue to employ those who do not wish to leave the Army, either by giving them some of the £1 billion that the Government are investing in the young or by underrecruiting the unrecruited TA.

My Lords, I think that I recognise a certain anti-TA bias in that comment, which neither I nor the Government share. The total reduction in the size of the Armed Forces over the next several years will amount to 17,000 and it is estimated that the total necessary redundancies from currently serving personnel will be 11,000. The proportion of those servicemen under the age of 25 will be much closer to 2,000 to 3,000 than the figures the noble and gallant Lord has suggested.

My Lords, would the noble Lord assure me and the House that servicemen and women in this age group who may be redundant will be guided towards apprenticeships which we already have in place for service people leaving the services early? It is particularly important that such people are trained up and apprenticeships are very necessary to achieve this.

Of course, many of those who came in as young leaders in the armed services are already being trained in the Army in the sort of skills that are highly valuable in civilian life. There is a resettlement scheme in place which will provide transitional training. In recent times, 93 per cent of those who left the Army under the resettlement scheme have found jobs within six months and 97 per cent within 12 months. I am sure that people with good records in the Army will have much that sort of experience.

My Lords, redundant personnel will have spent many years living and working in the Armed Forces. Are the Government going to give them training to enable them to find accommodation, food and other essentials? I also find it strange that, at the same time, there are advertisements on television for jobs in the Armed Forces. Can the Minister explain why?

My Lords, I think noble Lords will understand why continuing recruitment at a lower level needs to continue in order to maintain the correct balance of age groups and skills in the Armed Forces, even as they are reduced. There are opportunities for those selected for redundancy to apply for other skill training within the armed services, so it is not simply one out and another person in.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the current machinations about aircraft for aircraft carriers bring to mind the maxim, “Order, counter-order, disorder” and, rather more coarsely, the ouslam bird? Does he not agree that getting rid of the seed corn now will mean that the generation of the carriers will be rather more expensive and far more difficult than it need be?

My Lords, we all recognise that we are not in an entirely happy situation as far as the carriers are concerned. That is part of the problems which this Government inherited with very large carriers already under way. The question of how far we maintain and renew the skills involved is under active consideration. Our American and French partners will, no doubt, be willing to assist in this. Indeed, discussions are already under way.

My Lords, referring back to a previous question, would the Minister give a further assurance about the importance placed on recruiting 18 to 24 year-olds? The Armed Forces are essentially a group of organisations which rely on young people. Does he agree that it is important to continue to recruit these people, to advertise and to make sure that our training establishments are properly maintained? Does he further agree that there will come a moment when we may have to expand our Armed Forces again and that we do not wish to run down our machinery too much in advance of that?

My Lords, I entirely agree that we need to maintain a balance in the forces. Many people join the Armed Forces in the hope of staying in for 22 years, but others join hoping to stay in for three or six years. In visiting one or two TA units, I have been struck by the number of people in the TA who have spent time with the Regular Forces or, in some cases, who started in the TA, moved into the Regular Forces and then came out and back to the TA. There is not a simple package or career structure in place. It is very good for some young people to spend some time with the Armed Forces and then come back into civilian life.

My Lords, further to the Minister’s answer on recruitment, is there to be a freeze or will there continue to be recruitment to the Armed Forces in the future?

My Lords, as I have already said, we are continuing to recruit, but at a lower level as we adjust numbers. I am told that levels of applications to join the Armed Forces at the present time are high.

Are these service personnel being made redundant to make savings and keep expenditure within budget, despite the Government being able to afford a reduction in the top rate of income tax, or are they being made redundant because they are not needed to meet current and projected military commitments— namely, that they are surplus to requirements?

My Lords, I have not yet heard the Labour Party come out in favour of a substantial increase in defence spending in future years. If the Labour Party would like to commit itself to such a substantial increase, much of this would be avoided.

There is a range of reasons why some reductions, including in defence expenditure, are being made. As we withdraw our troops from Afghanistan in 2014, for the first time in a very long time we will not be, we hope, engaged in any active military operations; and, as we withdraw our troops from Germany, for the first time in over 200 years we will be within sight of our Armed Forces being mainly based in the United Kingdom. Some real and major adjustments to our Armed Forces will be under way in the next five to 10 years.