Great importance is attached to the historic links that the infantry, the Royal Artillery, the Household Cavalry and Royal Armoured Corps have with the areas from which they traditionally recruit. Although the location of potential soldiers is not an overriding consideration in recruitment, the practice of maintaining links with geographical areas has served the Army well for many years, not least in helping to uphold a sense of unit identity.
I am sure that the Minister can justify the number of regiments in Scotland, which has a population of 5 million. Will he explain why the nine counties—the traditional recruitment area of the Royal Anglian Regiment—with a population of 7 million, have only one regiment and two battalions? Whereas the Scottish regiments find difficulty in recruiting, the Royal Anglian Regiment does not, and the reinstatement of the Third Battalion—the former Essex Regiment—would go a long way towards filling the Army's vacancies.
I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman's points, which he makes consistently. Recruitment is generally buoyant and that includes recruitment to the Royal Anglians. It is also worth saying that the Army, like any organisation, needs to adapt to change in the existing environment. It does that, as has been proved around the world.
Does my hon. Friend appreciate that we are all proud of our historic links with our county regiments? Did he take the opportunity during the commemorations of D-day to see one of the films, which showed a small American town where almost every other household featured in the casualty rates after the Omaha beach landings? Such scenes had not been known in Britain since the days of the pals regiments. Will my hon. Friend reassure me that, in our recruitment base, the current strategy and tactics in the British Army are correct and should be adhered to on recruitment and allocation?
I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend that I did not see the film to which he referred. I had one or two other things to do in the run-up to that weekend. Omaha beach is covered in the Minister of Defence booklet that we published to commemorate D-day. I know that my hon. Friend has a copy, because I made sure that every hon. Member had one.
The Minister knows from his experience that, especially when considering infantry battalions, not only their recruitment record but their ability to retain soldiers after they have been trained is important. Will he take that into account in any analysis of future infantry battalions? The Royal Anglian Regiment has an especially good record on retaining trained soldiers as well as on its ability to recruit them.
I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman not only that recruitment is buoyant but that, in the past two years, the Army's trained strength has increased by more than 3,300 personnel. That is down not only to good recruitment practices but to good retention levels. I share the hon. Gentleman's view that it is important to retain people in the British Army once they have been recruited. We intend to do that.
Does the Minister accept that there is considerable affection for and pride in the Royal Anglian Regiment in Essex? Will he please tell me what specific support has been given to regiments such as the Royal Anglian for their local recruitment drives? Is there any truth in the recent press reports that there has been a six-month freeze on recruitment?
No. There has been no recruitment freeze. I met many members of the recruitment team in the hon. Gentleman's area last Friday when I was at Chelmsford fire station to celebrate the sixth-form college's national diplomas. That included talking to one or two people from a battalion.
This looks like an East Anglian love-in. As a Member of Parliament representing Norfolk, I of course endorse all the comments made by hon. Members about the Royal Anglian Regiment. I am sure that the whole House agrees that the links between a regiment and its historical recruiting areas are very important in maintaining the strength of the Army.
The Minister touched on a point mentioned by my hon. Friend Mr. Burns. The House is aware that the defence budget faces a £1.5 billion shortfall, and although the Minister denies the fact that there is a freeze on recruitment and training, in the other place last Thursday Lord Bach referred to it as a "pause" in training recruits. What is the difference between a freeze and a pause?
I have made clear the position on recruitment, which I am responsible for. There is no recruitment freeze in the British Army. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that that is the situation we have today. Of course, it is not the situation that members of the Government he supported in the early '90s dealt with. Their recruitment freeze in the early '90s has a direct impact on the ability of our armed forces to deliver today, and he needs to understand that. It is obvious and consistent that we ensure that our armed forces are relevant, flexible and usable. That is what they are today.