HC Deb 22 March 1999 vol 328 cc7-8
4. Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

What level of recruitment he expects for (i) regulars and (ii) reserves to (a) the Marines, (b) Special Air Service, and (c) RAMC over the next five years. [75967]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Doug Henderson)

The recruiting targets for Royal Marines, Special Air Service, and the Royal Army Medical Corps are set to maintain current and known future staffing requirements, for both regular and reserve forces.

Soldiers and officers for the Regular SAS are recruited as required from among serving personnel.

The Regular Royal Marines recruiting targets for 1999–2000 are 1,155 other ranks and 38 officers, reducing to 800 other ranks and 38 officers in 2003–04.

The Regular Royal Army Medical Corps recruiting targets for 1999–2000 are 398 other ranks and 69 officers, rising to 625 other ranks and 78 officers in 2003–04. I am placing fuller tables of the targets for the Royal Marines and the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Library of the House.

The Royal Marine Reserve adjusts its recruitment to maintain a trained strength of 592 reservists.

Following the strategic defence review, the Reserve Royal Army Medical Corps is to increase by more than 2,000 personnel, and we aim to recruit those additional reserve personnel as soon as possible.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful for a full and helpful reply. I believe that we are still a little below establishment in each of those forces. Can we increase the number of women and of black and Asian recruits? Will the Minister reflect on the benefit of trying to pull from the reserves in the Marines, the RAMC Corps and the SAS into the regulars? There is a link, but the numbers going from the reserves to become full-time service personnel are still relatively small. All the evidence and anecdotes that I hear suggest that there is potential there for further recruitment.

Mr. Henderson

I agree that it is important to tap into all the potential resources for recruitment to our armed forces. The reserves are a key area for that, as are the cadets. That is why the Government put so much emphasis on building up the resources and the capabilities of the cadets.

The hon. Gentleman also identified two important areas of recruitment. Although women are obviously not so important in respect of the Royal Marines, they are important in the other parts of the armed services and we must tap into such a major section of the population. Female recruitment has been improving significantly, especially for officers. About one in five such recruits are women and not many organisations in this country could claim that one in five of their middle management are women. It is a tribute to our armed forces that they have been able to achieve that.

It is also important that we recruit from the widest base of the population. So many people in the black and Asian communities would offer so much to our armed forces if they could be convinced that they had a first-choice career there. It is our aim to make sure that that is the case.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Is not the crucial test, particularly for the commando course of the Royal Marines and the selection course for the Special Air Service Regiment, whether people going through those courses have the mental and physical toughness to pass and to be fully operational thereafter? On the RAMC, do not the needs of the wounded and the sick transcend the racial divides in our society: therefore, should we not forget any notion of ethnic quotas for any arm of the armed forces and judge applicants only on their ability to do the job?

Mr. Henderson

There is no question of quotas in our armed forces and no question of anyone joining our armed forces who does not have the qualifications—whether mental agility or toughness—to join. If we are to fulfil our recruitment targets, we have to make sure that an awful lot of people with mental agility and toughness who currently are not taking the opportunity to join our armed forces get that opportunity.