Defence

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 6:20 pm on 18th February 2019.

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Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 6:20 pm, 18th February 2019

I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for that intervention. I was once told by my commanding officer that I did not need to worry about much, but if my soldiers stopped moaning, I needed to start worrying. However, the point about the recruitment campaign is that it highlighted the need not only for people who are physically robust and self-reliant, but for people who have empathy and are able to develop and deploy soft skills. When the toughest soldiers in the British Army, the Special Air Service, were deployed during the Malaya insurgency, they really understood the requirement for hearts and minds. Winning conflicts through kinetic means—through bombs and bullets, to pick two words at random—is one way to do it, but doing it through hearts and minds really matters.

I am getting those looks again, so I will draw my remarks to a conclusion shortly. We must make sure that the skills of the young people we recruit and retain in the armed forces match the threats and risks presented not just in the here and now but in the timeframe of their service. The people we are recruiting in the here and now have to be ready, able and capable of matching the threats that could present themselves in 10, 15 and 20 years’ time. That means people with adaptability as a core skill and who have the intellectual flexibility to take on new skills. Lifelong learning should not just be available to people in the civilian world; it should be available to people in the armed forces, too.

I am particularly proud of two things that my party has introduced in government. The first is flexible working throughout the armed forces. It would be unacceptable if talented, well-trained, experienced soldiers, sailors and airwomen were prevented from fully reaching their potential because they have taken maternity leave. Soldiers, sailors and airmen who also wish to make good on their family commitments should also have the opportunity to take periods out of frontline service so they can discharge their familial duties as well as their military duties and not feel that their promotion will be held back because of it. We do not have the luxury of seeing such talented people as disposable items, and we have to make sure they are valued throughout their time of service.

Finally, allied to that is that all roles in the military are now available to any woman who is good enough to discharge them. Quality should be the only metric against which selection is made. The fact that we have now done that and that our armed forces are now gender blind and focused purely on quality is a step in the right direction.