HL Deb 17 December 1996 vol 576 cc1387-90

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures exist to help ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen to obtain gainful employment on leaving the services.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government recognize the invaluable contribution which service leavers can make to civilian life. Appropriate resettlement advice is available to all throughout their service. A programme of career and specialist briefings, training courses and elements of outplacement is also provided for eligible personnel. Training may be through in-house centres or by external providers. The Services Employment Network works with the Officers' Association and Regular Forces Employment Association to provide a free job-matching service for personnel and employers alike.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that most encouraging reply. Is he aware that the Royal British Legion is now providing facilities at Tidworth Training College? Will the Government consider giving all the help that they can to the Royal British Legion in its further endeavour to assist ex-servicemen and women?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I am well aware of the excellent facilities provided by the Royal British Legion's joint services training and resettlement centre at Tidworth. Our own resettlement organisation in the MoD enjoys a close relationship with the Tidworth centre. As the noble Lord will know, eligible personnel can claim a grant for training courses. But we believe that the individual should be free to choose whether to train at an in-house centre or with an external provider such as the Royal British Legion. However, I shall take full note of the point raised by the noble Lord in the knowledge that he is the Royal British Legion's national vice-president.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the expertise of highly experienced junior ranks in the services in one field or another is not compatible with, and not acceptable in, the civilian counterpart as regards NVQs? Can the Minister seek to make the NVQs and work in the Army more compatible?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the point that he raises. In fact in all three services an increasing emphasis is being placed on NVQs and on accreditation of service training and experience. Much of the formal training within the services develops skills which are directly transferable to civilian employment. These are relatively early days but I believe that we should see an increasing proportion of service leavers with NVQs to their credit over the years ahead.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, in view of the effort involved, will the Minister tell us what percentage of ex-servicemen are in full-time employment within six months of leaving the service?

Earl Howe

My Lords, the figure that I have relates to those who have left the services within a period of three months. A post-exit survey conducted a few months ago indicates that around 80 per cent. of service leavers are employed or otherwise engaged in their chosen activity within three months of leaving the services.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that certain ex-servicemen and women who served in the Gulf have not been able to retain employment. Indeed, there is some evidence that those who served in the Gulf have lost their jobs as a result of service. Is the noble Earl further aware that the noble Countess, Lady Mar, this morning issued a press release on the problems of Gulf War veterans and that I shall be putting down a Question for Written Answer to ensure that the Government give a considered response to that press release? Will the noble Earl tell the House how many of those who served in the Gulf and have now left the services are in gainful employment or have been sacked as a result of the Gulf War syndrome?

Earl Howe

My Lords, whenever a Question is tabled I always give a considered response. That will be the case with the noble Lord's Question or any that the noble Countess, Lady Mar, cares to table. I do not have the figures relating specifically to Gulf War veterans. If they are available, I shall write to the noble Lord.

Earl Jellicoe

My Lords, will my noble friend enlighten me as to the meaning of the three initials about which the noble Lord was inquiring?

Earl Howe

My Lords, they stand for national vocational qualifications.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, the House will be very glad to hear that the Government are providing some training and retraining facilities for servicemen who are about to leave the forces. However, the House will be absolutely appalled to learn that there is a 20 per cent. level of unemployment three months after leaving the services. Bearing in mind that the Government have presided over twice the rate of unemployment that pertained during the 1970s throughout virtually their whole period of office, when will they change course and realise that full employment is a sensible object of government policy?

Earl Howe

My Lords, the noble Lord does not paint a very accurate picture. What the services offer in terms of advice, resettlement training, civilian work experience and job finding bears very favourable comparison with anything of the kind that is available in the commercial sector. They have done that for years. The services pride themselves on being good employers. They take resettlement extremely seriously. As I am sure the noble Lord will know, for that reason they are never complacent. They are always seeking ways to improve the package and introduce up-to-date best practice.

Baroness Young

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister confirm that, as NVQs become increasingly important qualifications for all young people, he will make sure that they are compatible with the qualifications that servicemen may collect in the course of their service lives?

Earl Howe

My Lords, I give my noble friend that undertaking. There is an increasing emphasis in all the services on NVQs. As a qualification they provide an understandable skill level that is easily transferable to civilian employment. Throughout their service all personnel acquire a variety of personal skills: leadership, adaptability, self-motivation and so on. Those stand them in very good stead in the civilian job market.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, since it is likely that service personnel have not been able to get a foot on the property ladder, is any particular help given to ex-servicemen with finding accommodation, either to rent or to buy?

Earl Howe

My Lords, when those personnel who occupy a married quarter leave the service, they are normally given discretion, should they ask for it, to stay on for a period. The services go to some trouble to liaise with the local housing association or local authority as the case may be to ensure that housing can be provided if it is required.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is it not a strange commentary that only a few years ago, despite the urgings on the Minister from all parts of the House, the Government insisted on making redundant so many first-class servicemen? Fewer servicemen would be unemployed today if the Government had followed the advice of this House.

Earl Howe

My Lords, as I indicated, a very high proportion of service leavers gain employment within a relatively short space of time. I do not believe that any side of this House disagreed with the principle that the services needed to be reduced in size following the end of the Cold War. The downsizing has been managed extremely successfully. Although inevitably there has been some pain along the way for those made redundant, it has been well managed and jobs have been found for the majority of those who left.

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