HC Deb 07 May 1996 vol 277 cc3-4
2. Mr. Turner

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his Department's ability to recruit personnel to the Army. [26920]

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)

We have taken and will continue to take decisive and urgent action to ensure that the Army gets the 15,000 high-quality new recruits that it needs each year.

Mr. Turner

Is it not the height of incompetence that the Conservative Government have cut manpower strength in the British Army by 25 per cent. and are failing to recruit new soldiers into the Army despite massive unemployment?

Mr. Soames

I am afraid that I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman's spontaneous question. Although it is certainly true that the Army has been cut as a result of the greatly changed strategic setting and that certain sectors are finding recruitment difficult, for a number of different reasons with which the House is entirely familiar, not least of which is the present competitive job market, I am glad that we appear now to have turned the tide. In 1995, we saw a 33 per cent. increase in inquiries and a 25 per cent. increase in enlistment. We are not out of the woods yet, but we are well on the way.

Mr. Dover

Will the Minister review the policy that removed recruitment centres in high street shops, as that was an effective and cost-effective method of recruitment?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is quite right to say that local recruiting centres are extremely valuable. A number of planned changes have been halted, pending the results of a trial that is proving most successful and involves working with our friends in the jobcentres. I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance and confirm that they are indeed valuable sources of recruits.

Mr. Spellar

Does the Minister now accept responsibility for the huge waste of public money in spending £500 million on redundancy and £100 million on recruitment in one year alone? Can he explain to the House how handing out compulsory redundancy notices would make recruitment attractive? Will he admit that his Department's handling of Army recruitment has been staggeringly incompetent?

Mr. Soames

One of the reasons why the Conservative party will win the next election is that it is quite plain that the Opposition do not understand defence or how it is run. It is also quite plain that, during a period of drawdown, services need to recruit at all times. They need to refresh the specialisations and aid structure at all ranks. Quite clearly, during a period of drawdown, the perception is that the forces no longer need to recruit. We have addressed that with vigour and determination and our policies are gaining all the time. The hon. Gentleman's question was a pretty facile attempt at a rather poor soundbite.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, if the Government were to adopt Labour's policy and reduce defence expenditure of £4.5 billion to the European average, that would have a massive impact on personnel in the Army and other armed services and on equipment procurement, which would place in jeopardy the defence of the realm?

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend is completely right. Such a policy would not only greatly harm the interests of the United Kingdom, whose armed forces are such a golden asset, but would seriously damage the job security of all the splendid young men and women who serve in our three forces and the interests of British industry, which provides such splendid equipment for our forces.