HC Deb 20 January 1981 vol 997 cc136-7
5. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with the methods of recruitment into the Armed Forces.

Mr. Pattie

I am not dissatisfied by any means with our current recruitment methods. However, there can be no room for complacency if our recent excellent recruiting performance is to continue in coming years, and it may be that more refined approaches have to be adopted to obtain those very able people, from a contracting manpower pool, whom the Armed Forces require.

Mr. Canavan

Is the Minister aware that one of the unfortunate results of the high unemployment created by this Government is that in some areas the only potential employers going into the schools are the Armed Forces, which are trying to recruit young people, many of whom are left with the choice of joining the Army or the dole queue? In view of the unfair pressure that is being put on many young people, would it not be fairer for the Government to give a statutory right of free discharge to all young Service people under the age of 18 if, after a while, they find that life in the Forces is not all that the glossy advertisements make it out to be?

Mr. Pattie

There is no question of undue pressure. As the hon. Gentleman should be aware, it is the right of new entrants to the Armed Forces to obtain a discharge during recruit training.

Mr. Stokes

Is my hon. Friend aware that sometimes in advertising for officers too much emphasis is placed on applicants having somewhat odd and trendy backgrounds, instead of those qualities of loyalty, patriotism and leadership which are really required?

Mr. Pattie

I assure my hon. Friend that the qualities he describes are still very much needed.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Would it not be much better at this time, and certainly in the interests of the United Kingdom, if these young people could be recruited into industry rather than into the Armed Forces? Is not a change in the Government's economic strategy now called for, bearing in mind that situation?

Mr. Pattie

I think that that question should more properly be directed to another Department. The hon. Gentleman speaks as though we are still operating some kind of press gang. What we are interested in is getting young people with the right degree of motivation and ability in the Armed Forces. All the figures indicate that we are doing just that.

Dr. David Clark

As my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) emphasised, much of the successful recruitment takes place in areas of high unemployment, where there has been a drastic fall-off in the number of apprenticeships. Will the Minister therefore emphasise both to the MOD civilian authorities and to the Armed Forces the importance of there being no fall-off in apprenticeship intake?

Mr. Pattie

I note the hon. Gentleman's point. But I say again that we are interested in the requisite and appropriate degree of motivation. While we obviously get more applications in areas of high unemployment, that does not necessarily mean that we get more recruits from those areas.