HC Deb 28 February 1995 vol 255 cc833-5
12. Mr. Spellar

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the continuing cost of recruitment to the armed forces while people are being made redundant.

Mr. Soames

Recruitment to the armed forces has continued throughout the force restructuring exercise, "Options for Change", in order to maintain a balanced age and rank structure and to meet shortages in certain branches and trades.

Mr. Spellar

I am not surprised that the Minister did not give the exact figure for the costs. In the last financial year, they amounted to £100 million for recruitment and £500 million for redundancy. Is it not ludicrous to have that imbalance? When will the Government stop this absurd waste of public money?

Mr. Soames

I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman but, as usual, he is wrong on everything. It is not £100 million; it is £92 million. [interruption] I fully realise that £8 million here or there is nothing to the Labour party. Plainly, recruiting remains extremely important to retain the right mix of skills and expertise and a balanced age structure, without which the services would be unable to carry out their job.

As to resettlement and redundancy, the hon. Gentleman should know that 80 per cent. of the people who leave the services are in employment or in other chosen activities within three months of leaving and that 93 per cent. of them are in that position after 15 months. That money is extremely well spent and just goes to show that the armed services provide the best-trained, best-skilled and best-led work force in the land.

Mr. Viggers

In addition to the points that my hon. Friend has made, does he agree that, if recruitment were to stop, it would mean that the training establishments would be unable to maintain their proper efficiency, which demonstrates the ignorance behind the original question?

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend is right. The question of the hon. Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) was fatuous and betrayed a lack of knowledge of the position. As I have said, plainly we must retain a constant and steady inflow to ensure that we have a balanced aid structure and a balanced range of skills across the services. I endorse what my hon. Friend says about the service training centres.

Dr. Reid

Is it not amazing that, in other circumstances, when we discuss recruitment, for instance, of managers of privatised utilities, the Government tell us that the only way to recruit the right people is to pay huge wage increases? Why are the armed forces so different? Why, when we need ordinary soldiers and ratings, have the Government cut their remuneration by 15 per cent. in real terms but, when we are awash with generals and brigadiers, increased their salaries by 18 per cent. in real terms? Is it not the same old Tory story: more brass for the top brass and peanuts for the poor bloody infantry?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman has more front than Brighton beach. That is a disgraceful assertion. The Conservative Government have always accepted the recommendations of the Review Body on Armed Forces Pay. They are proud of their record on service pay.

Mr. Brazier

Does my hon. Friend accept that the armed forces are essentially a young organisation, and that even those of us who have expressed reservations about defence cuts fully support the view that, although people leaving the forces must be generously treated, it is essential that we maintain an on-going recruiting programme, bringing young people into the forces? The Government are absolutely right on that.

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his endorsement. He is exactly right. This is all part of maintaining the skills and the broad range of age and experience that is so necessary to a professional army. My hon. Friend is probably aware that well over 30,000 personnel leave the services every year on completion of their engagements or because they have decided to take up civilian employment. Many of those people are under 30.