Ministry of Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 26th February 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Conservative, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine 7:30 pm, 26th February 2018

During this debate, the subject of how much we should spend on defence and what we should be spending on has taken up a lot of the time, as is only right in an estimates day debate. I want to take this opportunity to put on record my agreement with the sentiments expressed by, among others, my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh, Mrs Moon, my right hon. Friends the Members for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) and for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), Vernon Coaker, my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair, and the hon. Members for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), for North Durham (Mr Jones) and for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney). Simply put, I agree that more needs to be spent on the defence of our nation, and that the continued speculation about cuts to capability and manpower not only weakens us in the eyes of our allies, but does untold grievous damage to the morale of our men and women serving today. I also want to mention something that has not been touched on this afternoon. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Johnny Mercer and others for their tireless campaign to get more help and investment into mental health support for serving personnel, and to the MOD for the announcement this weekend of the creation of the new helpline operated by Combat Stress.

Today, however, I want to raise something different, which I estimate would cost the UK Government very little money at all. All Members are aware of the current problems in recruitment to the armed forces. I know that a great deal of time and effort is going into revamping and modernising the recruitment process and the new recruitment campaign. However, there is one group of people that, apart from in the rarest of circumstances, is very unlikely to be found in the ranks of the Army, the Navy or the Air Force: subjects from the British overseas territories. These territories are British by choice and their residents are British subjects. However, despite being loyal citizens and holders of a British passport, and being fit and able and willing, individuals are still ineligible to serve in the armed forces of this country unless they have resided on the British mainland for five whole years.

Let us put that into perspective. That means that an 18-year-old Falklander or Gibraltarian who wanted, like his compatriots on these islands, to have a rewarding career in the armed forces would be forced to move to the UK mainland and live, and presumably work, here until the age of 23 before being eligible to join up. Some might argue that, for example, the Royal Gibraltar Regiment and the Falklands Island Defence Force give the chance for rewarding careers in the armed forces for citizens of overseas territories, but if they wanted to join the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Air Force or any regiment in the regular British Army they would be prevented from doing so for five whole years simply by virtue of not residing in these islands long enough. I put it to the House that that is not only daft, but is borderline discriminatory, and it is doing our loyal subjects in our overseas territories a huge disservice, and denying our armed forces willing volunteers at a time when we are struggling to fill the books.