The hon. Lady makes an important and interesting point. We have certainly tried hard in my constituency and the Metropolitan Borough of St Helens more widely to implement the armed forces covenant, but there have been issues with its implementation in Northern Ireland. I am sure we would all wish to see those issues resolved and its full implementation in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the UK.
Despite the Government’s target in the strategic defence and security review to have 82,000 full-time fully trained troops, as of April this year there were just 78,000 soldiers in the Army. By any measure, that is an abject failure on the Government’s watch, and it was rightly identified as a key problem by the former commander of Joint Forces Command, General Sir Richard Barrons. The recent report by Mr Francois confirmed that the Regular Army needs to recruit 10,000 people a year to maintain its strength, but managed to attract only 7,000 entrants last year.
Worryingly, alongside all that, the figures show that the numbers leaving the part-time Army Reserve, which we were told would be increased to meet the decline in numbers in the Regular Army, increased by 20% between