HC Deb 10 May 1994 vol 243 cc138-9
2. Dr. Goodson-Wickes

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the effect of contractorisation on military career structures.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Jonathan Aitken)

Military career structures are reviewed regularly, taking into account all factors including my Department's contractorisation and market-testing programme.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes

Does my hon. Friend agree that the opportunity for people from varied backgrounds to achieve qualifications that would not otherwise be open to them is one of the admirable things that our armed forces offer? I am thinking especially of Welbeck college and Shrivenham. Will my hon. Friend therefore assure the House that in the review of contractorisation he will bear in mind the effect on career structures, especially on the technical side, to ensure that they are not prejudiced, which would disadvantage the operation of our troops generally?

Mr. Aitken

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his thoughtful comments. It is important that the armed services retain skilled technical personnel and I am sure that they will do so, whatever the outcome of the "Front Line First" studies. As for recruiting and future career structures, there is no sign that recruiting is in any sense becoming disappointing. All three services are succeeding in recruiting more than 90 per cent. of their manpower targets—a figure which we regard as satisfactory.

Mr. Lewis

Is the Minister aware that contractorisation goes beyond movement in career structure and also affects the quality of life of service people? The fewer service people there are on a base, the more guard duties they have to do. In addition, the whole ethos of the military establishment has been eroded by contractorisation. The Minister can visit Army camps and RAF stations and find young men with earrings and pigtails. That is not the service I know and recognise. Contractorisation has gone too far with too little thought.

Mr. Aitken

I agree that ethos is important in service life and there is no question of its being destroyed by "Front Line First" or any other study. We have a duty, however, to make sure that the armed services get the best possible equipment and support services and that maximum value for money is achieved. That is what our studies are all about and they are progressing satisfactorily without doing the damage that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. David Shaw

If my hon. Friend is considering the benefits of contractorisation in relation to the military bands, will he bear in mind that there is a substantial petition under way to keep the Royal Marines school of music at Deal?

Mr. Aitken

As my constituency is immediately adjacent to that of my hon. Friend, and as I live only two miles from Deal, I can assure him that I have not missed the very trenchant signals that he and the many supporters of the Royal Marines school of music at Deal are sending. They will, of course, be considered by Ministers before any decisions are reached.