Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that helpful reply, especially in relation to the New Deal. Given the difficulties expressed by the Armed Forces about applicants failing to satisfy recruitment criteria, is my noble friend prepared to consider some more flexible approaches to bringing unemployed people into the forces? Would he be prepared to consider bridging courses, access courses, or using short-term trial engagements? Vacancies have doubled during the past two years, during which time there seems to have been increasing criticism of the forces' image and human resources management practices, especially in relation to race, gender, and promotion issues at all levels. Is he confident that there are mechanisms in place to promote organisational and cultural changes by which recruitment may be assisted rather than hindered? If not, what proposals for change does he have?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am happy to bring to the attention of my honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces the interesting suggestions that my noble friend has put forward. The Armed Forces are already engaged, in the sense that all three services have identified two New Deal pathfinder areas. They have tri-service initiatives in areas of London and the West Midlands. Each service has started a dialogue with some colleges of
The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, does the Minister agree that recruitment and retention are part of the same coin, and that were the Armed Forces to retain personnel, recruitment would be less of a problem? Will the Minister assure the House that Her Majesty's Government put the right stress on pay, conditions of service, accommodation, time between operational tours, and adventure training, so that our highly trained and highly motivated service personnel will stay in the Armed Forces?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, the noble Earl is right to identify recruitment and retention as being two sides of the coin. We are doing everything we can to improve retention. To that end, we have introduced many new arrangements; for instance, trial engagements and assisting people by extending the period of training for those who do not move quickly through the early stages. I am afraid that the problem of over-stretch has been with Her Majesty's Armed Forces for many years and I wish that I could see an answer to it.
Lord Renton: My Lords, in recruiting for the Armed Forces, will the Government stress three advantages for young people who join? They are, first, that they will be serving their country; secondly, that they will learn valuable skills; thirdly, that they will have an interesting and enjoyable life.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord. Those thoughts are uppermost in our minds as we attempt to recruit unemployed people. I am sure that what he says is right. Our problem is not only in convincing young people but also their parents.
Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that 10,000 below establishment is a significant figure? Will he confirm that the fighting efficiency of our forces has not been reduced as a result of that shortage?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, Ministers in this Government, as in preceding governments, take a shortfall in the establishment seriously. Our fighting fitness would be improved if we could make that up, and it is one of the Government's main priorities to do just that.
Lord Islwyn: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that I have nothing against Her Majesty's Armed Forces? However, as we approach the millennium, is the situation not reminiscent of the 1930s when we urged our youngsters to join up in order to leave the dole queue? Have we not failed a whole generation, because Britain is a wealthy country and by now such youngsters should have been well trained and in gainful employment?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that my noble friend has nothing against the Armed Forces of this country. I am sure that that is true of every other Member of this House. As regards the 1930s, I am sure my noble friend will agree that we should bear that sad period in mind as a lesson to us all that we should not necessarily disarm too much just because there is no immediate threat on the horizon.
Lord Ironside: My Lords, can the noble Lord say what has been the result of the crash recruiting courses for the unemployed which were started quite recently at Catterick by the Army? Has any recruiting been achieved and are the courses still continuing?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, certainly the courses still continue but, without notice, I cannot give the noble Lord the figures in answer to his question. However, I shall try to pass that information to him as soon as I can.
Lord Molloy: My Lords, is my noble friend prepared to consider raising those matters with the appropriate employers' organisations and the trade unions? I feel sure that those bodies would be able to give him extremely useful advice on this important subject.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, as always I am grateful to my noble friend for his imaginative suggestion. However, I am fairly confident that my right honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces is already doing just that.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, we operate a totally gender-neutral recruiting policy in all the services. The opportunities for females to serve in different parts of Her Majesty's Forces is being extended every month.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his reply which helps to clarify the situation in view of the press report that the figure was about 55,000. Together with illegal immigrants who have managed to slip into the United Kingdom undetected, are not all those persons concealed in the community providing business for the underground industry which supplies false identities and documents for activating social security benefits and false addresses?
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