Army Reservists

It is a pleasure to serve under you, Dr McCrea. I congratulate my hon.—and distinguished—and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and other Members on their speeches, all of which have been excellent.

Before I touch on a few points about the reservists, I want to expand on the general state of our armed services. After this vision for the future, will we have sufficient armed forces to safeguard our country and all our various roles and peacekeeping tasks around the world, such as in NATO? I very strongly argue that we will not and that as our professional, regular arm becomes smaller, the share of regular to reserve should be higher, not lower.

We now have to field 30,000 reservists, which will require a substantial jump in the numbers. My research indicates that, of the 38,000 reservists required in 2009-10, we recruited in the region of 29,000, and only 19,000—50%—of those were fully trained. Our target is now to have 30,000 trained reservists by 2018, but we currently have 19,000 reservists trained to phase 2 levels, which is exactly the same as two years ago. We therefore need to recruit thousands more. Interest in joining the Territorial Army rose by 6% this year, but it would need to increase by 400% to meet the new Government target, which I do not believe is feasible.

Are the reservists value for money? Training the current 19,000 reservists to phase 2 levels costs £455 million a year, for which the Army could have recruited 10,500 full- time, professional, regular soldiers. My sources tell me that that is what they would rather have. I am not here to disparage what the TA reservists do or their honourable and fantastic role, as some colleagues think Government Members have done. We have not said that or implied it. I served for nine years in the Regular Army and met many hundreds of reservists, all of whom did the most fantastic job, as they still do.

Reservists take between 36 and 40 months to be considered fit for mobilisation. As I understand it, they may then be used for 12 months in any five-year period. Will the Minister confirm that? Yet I understand that the Government may spend £1.8 billion in enticements to the new lot of reservists over the next 10 years. Again, I would be grateful to the Minister if he could confirm whether that is true. In these tough times, £1.8 billion over 10 years to entice people into the reserves is an awful lot of money. Perhaps that money would be better spent on the regulars.

A possible solution that has been mooted is to cut the reserves by half, to 15,000. That would save money and retain the essential niche roles of, for example, lawyers and tanker drivers, whom we have already discussed in this debate. Of course that niche market must be maintained; such people do a fantastic job.

I want to draw to an end because there is, I think, one more speaker. If not, the Minister will sum up. Let me just go back to my first point and ask whether this is the direction that we in this country want to go. Many honourable and distinguished predecessors of ours in this place have issued warnings when our country has cut her armed services. We are now cutting down to a point that whatever the calibre of the extra reserves, and they will of course be top notch, will they be enough to fulfil all the roles, commitments and responsibilities that this country has? Some Members have compared what we are doing here, or not doing here, with other countries. I always think that it is a great danger to compare the United Kingdom and what we are trying to do with our armed services with another country, such as America, which has a very different budget to our own. America has the ability to produce aircraft and all the equipment that it needs to train its reserves.

Back in the 1980s when I was a regular soldier, the TA was having huge difficulties getting on to the appropriate training ranges and all the things that it needs to do. I suggest today that with all the training disappearing in Germany and everyone coming back to this country, these facilities will be hard sought by the Regular Army let alone the TAs who desperately need it as their percentage increases.