HC Deb 10 June 1964 vol 696 cc442-3

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

46. Mr. PAGET

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, if he will make a statement on Army recruiting.

The Minister of Defence for the Army (Mr. James Ramsden)

With permission, I will now answer Question Number 46.

The improvement in recruiting to which I referred in my Estimates speech this year has been maintained. In the first four months of 1964 some 7,500 adults were recruited, an improvement of 18 per cent. over the same period in 1963, in addition, the scheme for the enlistment of young men aged 17–17½ has been a success.

Including some 460 of these young soldiers, and despite the increase run-out with which we have had to contend, the other rank strength of the Army rose by 2,307 during the first four months of this year. The strength of 153,806 at the end of April represents a shortage of less than four per cent. of our "other rank" target of 160,000.

Mr. Paget

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome these very satisfactory figures? Is there anything to account for this increase at a time when employment in other directions has gone up other than the fact that recruiting always seems to go up very sharply when the Forces are engaged on active service?

Mr. Ramsden

I think that there may be various causes for this improvement, notably the way in which the Army has successfully tackled its far-flung commitments in recent months and the favourable Press coverage which its activities in this regard have achieved. The initial effect of the Army Youth Teams has been good, and the introduction of the Young Soldier Scheme has gone well.

As to what the hon. and learned Member said about employment, there has never been any discernible relationship between employment and recruiting. Some of our best results in the peak year two years ago came from areas where figures of employment were among the highest in the country.

Mr. Kershaw

Do not these figures give the lie to the Cassandras who said that recruiting would never go up? Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend not relax his efforts to get the full number of soldiers which we require?

Mr. Ramsden

The figures I gave were for the first four months. Since then, on the "hot" figures the trend seems to be maintained. My hon. Friend can be assured that all the way through the Army this is our prime objective, and we shall not relax our efforts.

Miss Vickers

Can my right hon. Friend say whether recruiting of women for the Army is also going well?

Mr. Ramsden

I should prefer notice before giving a full reply, but I am by no means dissatisfied with the way in which the figures are going.

Mr. P. Williams

Can my right hon. Friend say whether these figures include Gurkha recruitment? Whether they do or not, can he give an undertaking that there will be no unnecessary or artificial limit to Gurkha recruitment, but that this will be pressed on with as quickly as possible?

Mr. Ramsden

My right hon. Friend replied to the last part of that supplementary question earlier. These figures do not include Gurkhas. There is no problem at present about recruiting Gurkhas to maintain the present strength of the Gurkha Brigade.