As the House will be aware, the Government announced the process and outline timetable for the armed forces redundancy programme on
Today’s announcement represents the start of the third tranche of that programme and affects only Army personnel. Announcements about who has been selected will be made on
The House will wish to note that because of the draw-down in Afghanistan already announced, a final decision on those who will deploy there in autumn this year will not be made until April 2013. As a result, the final decision on personnel who are excluded as a result of the “preparing for operations” category will not be made until then. We expect at that stage that there will be a further tranche of redundancies in 2014. That is likely to affect Army personnel and a small number of medical and dental officers from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
Throughout the process, the Army will seek to maximise the number of applicants for redundancy. At the same time, we have cut back on recruiting as far as is safe to do so, but as the House will recognise, the services recruit from the bottom up, and therefore a steady inflow of Army recruits will continue to be required.
It is worth highlighting that the majority of those leaving the services as a result of tranches 1 and 2 have already enjoyed success in moving to civilian jobs. All those being made redundant, whether applicants or non-applicants, will enjoy the benefits of the career transition programme. The CTP includes career transition workshops, up to 35 days of paid resettlement, and training and financial support for education and training for up to 10 years after leaving. The programme has historically proved successful in assisting service leavers to find work outside the armed forces, and 93% of those who look for work via the CTP are in full-time employment within six months of leaving the services, rising to 97% after 12 months. To that end, 91% of tranche 1 applicants—more than 1,500 in total—have already found employment. That is testament to, and a reflection of, the training and quality that we, as a nation, continue to find in our service personnel.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question, and the Minister for his reply in the absence of the Secretary of State from the Chamber. It is important to say at the beginning that, on issues of national security and respect for our forces, there should always be bipartisanship.
On the human impact of today’s announcement, will any of those who apply for redundancy as a consequence be refused it? Will any of those who have no intention of leaving be forced to leave? What is the total number of people in the pool who are liable for redundancy? It seems that, as a consequence of what the Minister has said today, those currently serving in Afghanistan will not be exempt from the next round of Army redundancies.
All of that has created enormous uncertainty for those who are forced to look for other work or who face mortgage problems. In opposition, Labour has convinced many large private sector employers to guarantee job interviews to unemployed veterans. Will the Ministry of Defence now finally agree to try to do the same with public sector employers? Will the Minister work with mortgage providers to support those who are losing their jobs?
The gaps in the regular Army capability are to be filled by a doubling of the reserves, yet progress is concerning. A recent survey by the Federation of Small Businesses worryingly showed that one in three employers said that nothing would encourage them to employ a reservist, while nine out of 10 said that they had never heard of the MOD’s employer awareness events. Will the Minister therefore confirm how the Territorial Army has performed against its 2012 recruitment target, and, in light of the enormous increase in demands on the hoped-for thousands of new reservists, will he agree to consider legislation to protect reservists’ employment rights so that they do not face discrimination in the workplace?
The Government’s defence review committed the UK to an Army of 95,000, but it did not mention Mali, Algeria, Tunisia, Nigeria or even Libya. The threats have increased, and yet the Army is being cut to just 82,000, which is well below the previous promise. Will the Minister therefore finally agree to reopen the defence review, which once again has had its flaws exposed by world events?
The Prime Minister rightly spoke yesterday of the urgency concerning the Islamist terror threat to the UK from north Africa, but in a “carry on regardless” strategy, the very next day the MOD has announced 5,000 Army redundancies. Unless Ministers have answers, there will be a growing sense in the country that they are unprepared for the emerging threats in north Africa and beyond.
First, the right hon. Gentleman says that this should not be a subject for partisan argument—the whole House realises that this is an important matter. I will try to respect that spirit, but I cannot escape from pointing out that, although I hear what he says, the reason we are having to conduct a redundancy programme is, ultimately, the size of the defence deficit that this Government inherited. The scale of downsizing required in the Army is a consequence of that. Nothing he can say today can hide that.
That said, let me see whether I can take the right hon. Gentleman’s questions in turn—he asked quite a lot. He asked me to define the size of the pool in tranche 3. The pool is up to 5,300 personnel; it will be limited in tranche 3 to personnel drawn from the Army. It might not reach 5,300. That, in a sense, is the upper number.
The right hon. Gentleman asks whether we would make redundant people who did not want to be made redundant. We will do everything we can to maximise the number of applicants for redundancy. From memory, in tranche 1—when, effectively, exactly the same process and rules were applied—just over 60% of those made redundant were applicants for redundancy. Again from memory, in tranche 2, just over 70% were applicants for redundancy. We will do everything we practically can to maximise the number of applicants in tranche 3. I cannot, in all honesty, give him a guarantee at the Dispatch Box today that we will achieve 100%, but I hope he will understand that, in spirit, we will try to make that number as high as we can.
On exclusions, I set out my reply a few minutes ago. They are effectively the same as for tranches 1 and 2, and details are provided in the written ministerial statement. I have said that there will be a further tranche, tranche 4, at some point later next year. The exclusions that would apply on that date in 2014 should, in principle, be exactly the same exclusions that apply at the moment for this tranche.
On reserves, the right hon. Gentleman expressed scepticism on whether we would be able to meet the target. I believe that on the radio this morning he said:
“I think over time, reducing the size of the armed forces, as long as you put something in its place with a professional reservist force, then there’s a logic to it.”
I agree with him. The question is: can we get to that number? I hope I am in a position to give a reasonably authoritative comment on this, as I served in the reserve forces as an infantry officer in the 1980s. In those days, the Territorial Army, which, as he knows, may be renamed the Army Reserve, had a trained strength of 75,000 men. [Interruption.] He asked me a question; he must let me answer it. We are now aiming to get to 30,000 by 2018. I have to believe that if we got to 75,000 at that time, we can get to 30,000 now.
Our consultation on this matter closed last week. We have had more than 2,500 responses, many from reservists themselves, which is very encouraging. We will publish a White Paper announcing the way forward in spring. As I said in Defence questions last week, we will publish the White Paper, which in military terminology is our plan of attack. We will then cross the start line and get on with it. We are going to succeed.
I, sadly, had to make four officers on operations redundant. Two of them were volunteers, and two were not. It is very sad that we are now having to force people to take redundancy who might otherwise not be made redundant, because other people on operations cannot be made redundant. Will people who volunteer for redundancy, despite being on operations, be allowed to take it?
In answering my hon. Friend’s question, I pay tribute to his considerable experience in these matters, as the whole House knows. The exclusions apply to people if they do not wish to apply for redundancy and would not be made redundant. If they wish to apply for redundancy voluntarily from within those fields, they are allowed to do so. In essence, they are excluded if they do not want to apply, but allowed to apply voluntarily should they wish to do so. I hope that answers his question.
As Members can see for themselves, a large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye and I am keen to accommodate the level of interest. If I am to have any chance of doing so, however, my ritual exhortation to brevity takes on a particular importance.
I think we will come to regret the cuts to our capability. My question relates specifically to medical staff. Can the Minister say exactly how many medics will be made redundant as a result of the plans he has announced today? What impact will they have on medics cross-service, particularly on operations and in places such as the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, and on the expertise and experience in the medical division of our armed forces?
Mr Speaker, I know you have asked for brevity, but as the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the military-managed ward at the Queen Elizabeth hospital it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the wonderful people who work there and the marvellous service they provide to our wounded and injured personnel. Bless you, Mr Speaker.
There may be some small reductions to the number of Army medics in this tranche, and some small reductions in naval and RAF medics and dentists in tranche 4. The details are still being worked through, but the hon. Gentleman, who has done this job, will understand that if we are downsizing the regular forces, it makes sense to downsize concomitantly the size of the medical division—but no more than that.
Can we have an assurance that those selected for redundancy will not include any of those who have specialist skills, such as intelligence gathering, that would assist in the achievement of the ambitious agenda announced by the Prime Minister yesterday?
I would say to my right hon. and learned Friend that in rebalancing the regular Army for its new, smaller size, we need to ensure that we have the correct balance of skills in our armed forces, and we will attempt to do that, including for intelligence personnel.
Service personnel numbers in Scotland are at a record low of 11,000. Will the Minister confirm whether that will go down yet further? Only last year the Ministry of Defence said that between 6,500 and 7,000 troops would return from Germany, that a new barracks would be built at Kirknewton and that there would be new training areas in the borders. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are going back on all those commitments?
For the purposes of this process, Scottish personnel will be treated in much the same way as personnel throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. I believe the House thinks that is right; so do I.
Some of us who have served question the wisdom of cutting regular battalions before knowing for sure that the reservists can fill the large gap that will be left behind. We live in an uncertain world. What objective measures exist for Parliament to gauge progress on this issue?
As my hon. Friend may recall, he raised this matter with me at Defence questions last week. At the risk of being repetitious, I pointed out to him that we are delighted that recent tri-service and Army recruiting campaigns have already produced a 25% increase in TA inquiries, while regular Army engagements are up 3% against a three-year rolling average. I have taken a close personal interest in the plan to increase the size of the reserves. I understand what lies behind his question, but I genuinely believe that we can do it.
I understand the question and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s service in the regular armed forces. We have to wait and see exactly who does and does not apply. We will not know until March who exactly is in the pool of applicants, so it is difficult for me to answer his question now. However, we need to achieve a fully balanced Army at the end of this process, and that will clearly be an important factor in our thinking when looking at individuals.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that we are actively seeking to take the people who are accepting redundancy —or being forced to take it—into the reserve forces? Obviously we need to maintain expertise and experience wherever possible, so if we are doing that, will he also ensure that the transitional period is as efficient and speedy as possible, which, as he and I know, has not always been the case?
The in-principle answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes, of course we are trying to encourage members leaving the regular forces to join the reserves. He is right that there have been some blockages in the recruiting pipeline in the reserves. I have paid close attention to that. I believe that we have cleared those blockages—I know exactly what he is talking about—and, because of that, that we can make the system of joining the reserves much more smooth and effective in future.
As I have already said, I do not believe that this will affect current operations in Afghanistan. We have of course consulted with the service chiefs and—particularly on this tranche—members from the Army personnel branch. I am very conscious that behind every person who may be affected there is not just a service number, but a serviceman or woman and potentially a family. We realise that, which is why we are trying to do this as fairly and practically as possible, given that we understand that it is a difficult process.
Will the Minister confirm that the painful decisions taken in and since the strategic defence and security review aim to balance savings across manpower, equipment and support? Is it not incumbent on anyone opposing this round of redundancies to say where else they would make the savings in defence or come up with an additional defence budget?
I should say that this process not only affects our regular armed forces. Civilians in the Ministry of Defence are affected by a parallel programme—I think that by 2015 we will have reduced our number of civilians by approximately 33%. It would be unfair to say that our regular forces are bearing the brunt of the process while our civil service work force are not, because they are being affected in parallel.
In conducting this wretchedly painful exercise—for reasons that we all understand—which is often heartbreaking at unit level, will the Minister confirm that his duty is to the future shape of the armed forces, that they have the best possible collection of experience and ability to shape manpower and that this will mean making people redundant who do not apply for it? That is a necessary difficultly that, if he is to exercise his duty, we have to face up to.
I thank my hon. Friend for the spirit of his question. In the Ministry of Defence we are ultimately responsible for the defence of the realm, but as I hope he and the House will accept, I fully appreciate as someone who has served in uniform the difficult side of what we are having to do today. We completely understand that. We are therefore doing our best to proceed as sympathetically and fairly as possible; but we must configure our armed forces for the defence of our country and achieve the target set out in Future Force 2020.
Darlington has a long and proud history of service in the armed forces, particularly the TA. I commend the Minister for his prior service, but as he will have picked up, there is a lot of concern in the House about levels of recruitment to the TA. Can he help us by identifying exactly what level of recruitment to the TA is required and how far we are from achieving it?
The target is for the Territorial Army—probably to be renamed the Army Reserve—to have 30,000 trained reservists by 2018. By the way, we also want to increase the maritime reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, but they are already nearer their targets. We have looked carefully at the recruiting process. The White Paper, which we will publish in the spring, will lay out our plan of action. We will then move forward rapidly to execute that plan of action. I assure the hon. Lady and the House that I am keeping a laser-like focus on this, because I served in the reserves and I want to see them do well.
I should also acknowledge my hon. Friend’s service in the Household Division. The defence of the realm is our priority in the Ministry of Defence. It is a priority for any Government, but we are reconfiguring our armed forces to comply with the SDSR. As I hope I have made plain to the House, although we are reducing the number of regulars over time, we are increasing the number of reservists, and I believe we can achieve that new balance in good time.
Let me tell the Minister that I have never served in the armed forces, but I come from a family of soldiers and I think I have every right to comment today and ask him this. Does he not realise that what he has said today—yet more cuts to our capacity to defend this country—and what the Prime Minister will probably say about Europe tomorrow really means that we will look back on these few days in our history as the end of our country as a significant player in the world peace movement?
I do not agree with that last assertion. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will not comment on the Prime Minister’s speech tomorrow; there will be no shortage of comments on that anyway. Coming back to the hon. Gentleman’s earlier question of whether we understood that this was a difficult process: yes, of course we do. Do we believe that it is necessary for the reasons that we have outlined? Yes, we do. Will we do it as fairly and equitably as possible? Yes, we will.
I support this announcement, painful as it is for many individuals and their families who have given so much service. My right hon. Friend has shown commendable support for building the reserves, but will he confirm that our target for reserves is proportionately the smallest of any country in the English-speaking world?
My hon. Friend is probably the greatest living expert in the House on the reserve forces, so I shall not contradict him here and now. I pay tribute to his work on the reserves commission and to all the preparatory work that he and others, including the vice-chief of the defence staff, undertook in order to put us in the position of having £1.8 billion of resources over 10 years to grow our reserves and to make that a practical reality. I thank him for all that he has done on that.
I thank the Minister for his reassurance about retraining for those who have life after military service. This is not just about the value of military redundancies and the reallocation of housing, however; it is also about mortgages for new houses and how best those people should use their redundancy packages. What monetary advice will the Minister give to those who receive redundancy packages?
We provide financial advice to members of the armed forces at various stages of their careers. When applicants—and non-applicants—go through the redundancy process, the career transition partnership provides them with considerable assistance. I believe that discussions on their financial situation, and on what jobs they might apply for, form a part of that process.
I have already accepted that there were some blockages in the recruitment pipeline. I was aware that there had been difficulties, but I can assure the House that I investigated the problem at close range, as some generals can testify. I believe that those blockages have now been cleared, and that our recruitment and retention—which is also critical—will now improve.
I do not support cutting the British Army to its smallest size since the battle of Waterloo. The Minister is aware of the two-faced approach taken by the Ministry of Defence to those with broken service who volunteered for redundancy in the last tranche. Will he give the House an assurance that no soldier will be treated so shabbily this time?
I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in all matters military, not least because of Colchester garrison in his constituency, but I do not believe that we have been “two-faced”, as he put it. I do not accept that assertion, but if he wants to write to me with details of any particular case, I will of course look into them.
I am sure that, like me, the Minister is delighted by the safe return to our nation of His Royal Highness Prince Harry and his colleagues. Our nation is of course grateful for their service. With regard to the Minister’s answers today, will he provide a briefing to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on this issue? The Committee has opened an investigation into how the military covenant and redundancies will impact on service personnel in Ulster.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the service of His Royal Highness in theatre in Afghanistan. Captain Wales, as I understand he prefers to be known in the Army, has done well for his country and his service, and we commend him for that. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, I am aware of the military contribution that has come from Northern Ireland down the years, and I hope to visit Northern Ireland in the next few months. With regard to my appearing before the Select Committee, I shall take advice on the matter but, in principle, if it asks me to come, I will be there.
If I understood my right hon. Friend correctly, there will be not much more than a month’s gap between the announcement later this year on who is to be deployed to Afghanistan and the date on which the redundancies will be announced. How will that affect those who might or might not be deployed, including the 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment, the Staffords?
My hon. Friend has listened carefully to what has been said, and he is right to suggest that, because of the drawdown of our forces profile in Afghanistan, it will only be in April 2013 that we decide exactly which units will be going there. Clearly, it will then be a priority to look at anyone who might no longer be excluded from redundancy, but in effect, most of those who are in fields that are eligible for redundancy at the moment will have been notified by the chain of command this morning, in parallel with the process of notifying the House.
Hull has always been a strong recruiting ground for the armed forces, but alongside these redundancies, pay and pensions are being cut and many will be affected by the strivers’ tax and the bedroom tax. As I understand it, the cuts that have already been announced will mean that the entire British Army will fit into Wembley stadium by 2020. Will the Minister tell me whether the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday about being able to fight a decades-long campaign against global terrorism was realistic?
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this announcement will not have an impact on the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines, which have already seen a reduction in their numbers? Will he also keep me in touch with the impact that the redundancies will have on the Army units attached to 3 Commando Brigade, and especially to 29 Commando, based at the Royal Citadel in Plymouth?
We are normally slightly circumspect about commenting in the House of Commons on special forces, and particularly on special forces operations, for reasons that the House will understand very well. In principle, however, as we look to rebalance the size of the armed forces—both regular and reserve—we will clearly look at our special forces requirements in the light of that exercise.
Last week’s Bury Times reported on the final closure of the town’s Army careers office, and quoted the commander for regional recruiting, Lieutenant Colonel Leanda Pitt, as saying:
“The Army is still recruiting in Bury and there are jobs available now”.
Will the Minister confirm that, if the planned disbandment of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers proceeds, any Fusiliers likely to be made redundant will, as far as possible, be retrained to fill any vacancies?
That was, in a sense, several questions in one. With regard to recruitment offices, the armed forces, like many other organisations, have had to be aware of the way in which the world has changed. Many people who apply to join the armed forces now do so initially online, rather than walking into a recruiting office in the traditional way. Nevertheless, a number of people still use recruiting offices, so we have rearranged the profile of our offices around the country to try to adjust to life in the 21st century. My hon. Friend also asked about people in the regular armed forces who might be made redundant. Of course, one opportunity would be for them to rejoin as a member of the reserve forces, and we would encourage them to do that wherever possible.
I will consider that request very carefully. I have discussed the matter with representatives of the Army Families Federation and I can assure the hon. Lady that I have looked at the question extremely carefully. I have spent quite a bit of time with officials—[Interruption.] If hon. Members will allow me, I will continue. I have spent quite a bit of time looking at this with officials; it is a very difficult issue. Wherever we draw the line, there will always be some people who are just on the other side of it, and therefore there are always likely to be some people who will miss out. However, if someone leaves the service close to their pension point but not at it, we increase the compensation payment they receive in order to take account of that. Having checked, I found that those payments are, on average, in the order of £70,000 tax-free, and for some higher ranks they could be as much as £100,000 or more—again, untaxed. We have tried to look at the issue sympathetically.
From my experience as a private sector employer, I know that ex-service personnel can make excellent and productive employees. Will my right hon. Friend give to the House information held by the MOD about the employability and job prospects of those who previously served in our armed forces?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Ex-armed forces personnel are inherently highly employable, as testified by the fact, as I said earlier, that over 90% of those who go through the career transition partnership have found a job within six months. People often want to employ ex-members of the armed forces because they are a quality product. We will do everything we can through the CTP to support applicants or non-applicants who leave the forces to ensure that as many of them as possible find new careers.
Historically, many areas with the highest recruitment and employment in the armed forces are also those areas with the highest levels of joblessness, such as the south Wales valleys. On the basis that many of those facing redundancy will return to communities with high levels of joblessness, what additional support will be focused on those areas that have also traditionally had the highest levels of recruitment?
I completely understand the hon. Gentleman’s question on behalf of his constituents. As I understand it, however, the figures I was given on what might be called re-employability apply across the UK, so they also apply to Wales. I believe we are doing well in getting new jobs for people in Wales. It is a UK average, but if there is a particular issue regarding Wales, I will look into it and come back to him.
It is. Some suggestions have been made that because of the redundancy programme we should end recruiting—[Interruption.] Hang on. Past experience shows that if we turn off the recruiting pipeline for a few years, we end up with a black hole in our armed forces structure some years on, which will subsequently be difficult to fill. As I have said, we have reduced the recruitment of regulars as far as we think we practically can, but there comes a point beyond which it is not safe to reduce recruiting efforts for the regulars. We have been mindful of that in going forward. We still want people to join the regular Army.
I thank the Minister for his thoughtful response to the question asked by Heidi Alexander about those service personnel made redundant, who are calling themselves the “unpensionables”. Given his concerns about the difficulty of setting a cut-off point for those payments, will he consider a gradually accrued entitlement approach to the issue?
My hon. Friend has obviously looked at this. If he is referring to what some call the taper model, then we have looked at it, but we do not think it works practically. There is then the further difficult problem about the legacy issue of what to do about tranches 1 and 2. It is not as straightforward as it sometimes looks. I can assure the House that I have tried to look at the issue very carefully, but I am not sure, for some of the reasons I have outlined, that we can change the position. We know it is a difficult subject, but wherever we draw the line, there will always be someone just on the other side of it.
They will not. We have special provisions and procedures in place for dealing with people who have been seriously wounded in the service of their country. In essence, the policy is that they do not leave the service until it is in their interest and in the interest of the service for them to do so. If anyone is in any doubt about the dedication we provide to our seriously wounded, I would advise them to visit Headley Court, as they would be massively impressed by what they saw.
It is very encouraging and not surprising that, because of their professionalism, skills, training and tremendous work ethic, 97% of armed forces personnel who are made redundant find alternative employment within 12 months. Because of the individual example they can set for our young people, we need more ex-service personnel in our schools. What discussions is the Minister having with the Department for Education to make sure that we get large numbers of our former troops changing into teachers?
Again, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s service, particularly in respect of the reserve forces. He may know of the troops to teachers programme, which is run in accordance with the Department for Education to encourage ex-servicemen to go into a teaching career, as they often provide experienced authority figures, particularly in areas where some children come from difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds. We also have a programme to expand cadet units in schools, particularly in state schools. We have a target of 100 new cadet units in state schools by 2015. So far, we have had expressions of interest from some 70 schools, and some new cadet units have already opened. The programme is well on track.
We had a separate review of senior posts in the Ministry of Defence. We have already reduced the rank, as it were, of some appointments, so it would be unfair to say that senior officers are being completely excluded from changes in the structure of our armed forces. They are not. We are mindful of trying to deliver this in as balanced a way as possible. I hope that, if nothing else, I have managed to convince the House that we have thought about this matter. While this is a very difficult process, we are attempting to do it as sympathetically and fairly as practically possible. We are not magicians, but we are genuinely doing our best.