HC Deb 03 November 2003 vol 412 cc520-1
4. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore)

If he will make a statement on the work of the SaBRE—supporting Britain's reservists and employers—project in Wales to secure the release of employees for service in the reserve forces. [135546]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin)

The supporting Britain's reservists and employers campaign has been vigorously pursued in Wales. Approximately 500 employers have been contacted and presentations have also been made to the Welsh Assembly, the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and the Chartered Management Institute. During this first year, the SaBRE campaign team has been able to answer employers' questions and concerns and has established a help line to offer advice to employers, who can also make contact via the internet, on www.sabre.mod.uk.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore)

I thank my hon. Friend for his response and for the specific interest that he has shown in the work of SaBRE in Wales. I need not remind him that south Wales has been fertile ground for recruitment to the regular armed forces and the recruitment of reservists; as such, there is a particular draw upon the reserves and resources of families and employers. Will he join me in congratulating the excellent work of employers throughout south Wales? I look forward to welcoming my hon. Friend to Ogmore and Bridgend to see examples of that work.

Mr. Caplin

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his relationship with employers in his constituency both large and small, particularly Sony and Ford, which have made a considerable contribution to our reservist force. I am indeed looking forward to going to Wales later this month.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

I congratulate the SaBRE project in Wales, but does the Minister accept that one of its advantages is that a fully formed unit—the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers—has been sent from Wales, because when soldiers are with a formed unit, with their own officers and senior NCOs, not only are the soldiers happier, but the community is better able to support them? Another example of that is the formed platoon of the 3rd Battalion. Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment in my own constituency. Does the Minister accept that the lessons of such examples are that we do not have enough territorials, and that if the Government want to go on using more and more of them, they will have to expand the Territorial Army again?

Mr. Caplin

Two things occur to me about the hon. Gentleman's question. He is right to say that the preferred option would always be to send a full brigade—but the reservists and the Territorial Army make a significant impact on the specialities that our armed forces require, and that will be the case for some time to come.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

Reservists depend on a measure of Government expenditure, so will the hon. Gentleman invite his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to correct the record? The one spending programme that we have pledged to match is defence spending, and he should put that right before he says anything else to the House. Secondly, Army overstretch means that many employers are fed up with the frequency with which their Territorial Army employers are called up; some are even making membership of the TA or the reservists a bar to employment. The full-time reserve service therefore plays a vital role. Why, then, have the Government frozen recruitment of full-time reservists at just over 1,000, when the Regular Army trained strength is short of more than 3,800 people, and thousands more are unfit for deployment? Is that not another example of emergency in-year cuts as the Minister's Department is gripped by a financial crisis, with defence commitments outstripping resources, and Labour failing the armed forces?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

He'll be a reserve next week.

Mr. Caplin

As always, my hon. Friend has beaten me to it.

I very much enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) today, and I hope that he will be able to make a similar contribution from the Dispatch Box in a month's time. But how can he say what he has just said? He has told the House that he wants to support fully the defence programme that this Labour Government have set out, but he said nothing about any of the other programmes, and he said nothing about that in his speech to the Tory party conference. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it out."] I have to watch these things, you know—[Interruption.] I watched the hon. Gentleman's speech with interest. On the other point that he raised, it is short-sighted if employers do not want to employ reservists. I find that idea astonishing, and I have spoken to a number of employers in the past week, and will be seeing a number of others in the coming weeks.