Armed Forces Personnel

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

What recent assessment she has made of trends in the number of armed forces personnel.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

What recent assessment she has made of trends in the number of armed forces personnel.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

We remain committed to maintaining the overall size of the armed forces and we have a range of measures under way to improve recruitment and retention. Those measures are kept under constant review. Importantly, the services continue to meet all their current commitments, keeping the country and its interests safe.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to her post. Last year, a National Audit Office report stated that it would be another 20 years before the RAF has enough pilots. Recent reports have shown that this problem has still not been fixed. With many trainee pilots stuck awaiting advanced training, how will the Minister commit to resolving this desperate situation?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. There is currently a review under the Military Flying Training System. We have, in part, been victims of our own success in this area, but the Minister for defence procurement, my hon. Friend Stuart Andrew, has already answered questions on this. We are absolutely committed to streamlining this process to ensure that pilots are not waiting too long for that training. I can reassure the House that, while they are waiting, they are being suitably employed by the Royal Air Force; none the less, we are committed to speeding up that training.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Welsh Guards 1st Battalion are 30% below their target strength. Overall, the Army has shrunk. How does that fit with the Conservative manifesto commitment to

“maintain the overall size of the armed forces”?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I have good news for the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, I hope for the House. In January, the total size of the Army, including trained and untrained strength, was 81,750. At the end of April, the total size of the Regular Army, both trained and untrained, had risen to 82,770. That is a rise of more than 1,000 personnel.

Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Conservative, North Cornwall

I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. The Army is below its target strength in part because of the difficulties with and the inefficiency in Capita’s administration. What steps is the Department taking to make the joining process for new recruits easier?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. The issue is not only the application process, but the time of flight from doing that application to actually loading people onto training. I am pleased to say that there has been a recent trial in London and elsewhere looking at this very issue. We have managed to reduce the median time for that time of flight from above 200 days down to a median 109 days. That is a dramatic improvement, and it is just one of the things we are doing to speed up that process.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that those who are considering a career in our armed forces do not see old men in their communities being dragged into investigations for things that happened decades ago? For the sake of those who have served, who do serve and who will serve in the future, does he agree that these investigations must stop now?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. He will have seen the Secretary of State’s comments on this over recent days. I am pleased to say that a written ministerial statement on this subject will be tabled tomorrow.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces)

For the avoidance of doubt, I do normally sit on this side of the House.

I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to her place. There are people holding down good jobs and contributing to society who are on the spectrum and might have Asperger’s. They are, as I say, contributing to society yet if they try to join the armed forces they are stopped at square one. Will the Government reconsider that policy because these people might make a very considerable contribution to the defence of the UK?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

This is one of the areas—not specifically related to that condition but I am happy to look at it—on which we have had a series of medical symposiums. We feel that perhaps some of the medical requirements for joining the armed forces are out of date. One example that I have used before is childhood asthma. If it were to reoccur, it is unlikely to do so until the late 40s or 50s, at which point most people will have already left the armed forces. But I take the hon. Gentleman’s comments on board and will ensure that that is part of the study.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray

In Moray, we have seen a positive increase in the number of military personnel, which is down to the significant investment by the UK Government in the Poseidon P-8 aircraft at RAF Lossiemouth. Will the Minister take this opportunity to welcome those coming to my constituency in the next few years because of the arrival of the P-8 aircraft?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Indeed; the purchase of the nine P-8s was a very welcome step that this Government have made. It will significantly enhance our capability, and the investment that we have seen in Scotland ahead of those aircraft is significant and welcome.