Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
I represent Chetwynd barracks and am very proud of the great service of the Royal Engineers there, and I am a former Minister in the Ministry of Defence, with responsibility for welfare. I have to say that pay was not, and is not, on the list of concerns of those constituents who serve so well in our armed forces. Accommodation is another matter, but it is not about pay. With great respect to the hon. Lady, perhaps those listening to this are not being done a great service. There are other issues about our armed forces that we should be debating, but not this one.
I agree that pay is not the only factor that makes it difficult to recruit and retain staff, but it is certainly a significant one when both AFCAS and the pay review body list it as such.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the reasons why some fall out of our armed forces are hugely complex? There are all sorts of different reasons. It could be accommodation. It could be that they often find it difficult with their spouses, who want employment and some sort of family life. In an increasingly modern world, that is often thought not to be compatible with military service. There is a rich and important mixture of different things; it is not just one thing and it is not just pay.
Absolutely. That is why the Government are trying hard. I come back to the fact that I am not going to stand here and say it is all rosy when it comes to defence. On Monday, the Government had the Second Reading of the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill, which will fundamentally change the offer we give. We have to constantly challenge the offer we give to our armed forces personnel, but to pretend that pay is the limiting factor as to why so many people are leaving and why we have so many challenges on recruitment is not fair on the Government and not fair on the people who serve. We are making them think it is an issue when it is not.
We have a lot of work to do on defence, but pay is not a part of that. Let us put the debate into the realms of reality, so we can get somewhere and deliver something for those who I know will be watching this debate and scanning it for credibility. They will not, I am afraid, have seen much of it today.