§ 15. Bob Russell (Colchester)
What action he is taking to recruit and retain soldiers to ensure that the Army is at its full complement. 
§ The Minister of State for Defence
The problem of recruitment and retention across the services is being tackled as a matter of the highest priority. Our aim is to maintain high levels of recruitment and retention through policies that meet our requirements and genuinely reflect the priorities of our people and their families.
§ Bob Russell
Will the Minister confirm that on 1 May 1997 the shortfall in the British Army was 4,933, and that the latest figures published on 1 December 2001 show 20 that the shortfall is now 6,169? By any stretch of the imagination, that is an increase in the shortfall. Does he accept that the Government's policies on retention in and recruitment to the British Army have failed, and that that is adding to the problem of overstretch of our troops? I draw attention in particular to the troops based in my Colchester constituency.
§ Mr. Ingram
It would be wrong to deny that we face difficulties. That is why we have introduced an extensive welfare package which is constantly reviewed, and which is intended to deal with retention in the best possible way. As for recruitment, I could spend the next hour describing in detail all the ways in which we have tried to tackle it. If the hon. Gentleman is truly concerned, however, I suggest he should begin to appreciate the complexities and difficulties, and support the Government's initiatives rather than trying to talk down the armed forces.