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There is no disagreement between us. We are in discussion with the devolved Administrations. We are interested in results, rather than the box-ticking that the hon. Lady describes.

Gemma Doyle: The letter that the right hon. Gentleman has read out does not address the point I just made. Constitutional issues are involved. I believe that it would be unconstitutional for the Secretary of State to stand at the Dispatch Box here and report on devolved matters. My understanding is that if I were to secure an Adjournment debate on a devolved matter, it would not be taken on the Floor of the House. It would be ruled out of order, as indeed it should be. I am afraid that the letter to which the right hon. Gentleman refers does not address that point.

However the process with the devolved Administrations is handled, the inclusion of pensions and benefits as a defined area in the report would ensure that the report reflected issues for service people throughout the whole United Kingdom. As the Bill stands, Scottish and Welsh veterans in particular are being ignored. Fundamentally, I want the Secretary of State to come to Parliament and report on the matters for which he or she is responsible.

It is one thing to talk about the military covenant; the real test is how that acknowledgement is reflected in the decisions of Ministers. Their actions mean that thousands of servicemen and women will be made redundant, many more will see cuts to their allowances and all will be hit disproportionately hard compared with other workers by plans to downgrade public sector pension rises. These are just some of the many decisions taken by the Government in the past 12 months that have undermined the military covenant and given no cognisance to the unique nature of the work that our armed forces do. I am glad the Bill will recognise that through amendment 11, and I hope that Ministers will reflect that in their decision making, in which such recognition has been absent so far.

Christopher Pincher: The hon. Lady talks about honouring the armed services. Does she not think that a £38 billion black hole in the armed services budget dishonours the armed services—a black hole that her Government left behind?

Gemma Doyle: I should like to see the hon. Gentleman justify and explain that figure. It is not true, as he knows.

Chris Bryant: I am interested in outcomes as well. One of my concerns has been that armed forces personnel who live in different parts of the United Kingdom end up being treated rather differently because of the devolution settlement. That is not an argument to undo the devolution settlement; it is simply to say that, for instance, council tax relief for second homes for those who live in Army bases in Wales has been allowed at a different rate from that in England and in Scotland. It would be a good thing to be able to highlight those differences so that all the different elements of the United Kingdom heighten their support for veterans and those in the armed forces, rather than ignore them.

Gemma Doyle: My hon. Friend makes a good point. My concern is about how that will happen. I do not believe that the mechanisms have been fully worked

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through. That is why I want to strengthen the report and the fields that will be included in it.

On new clause 13, the nation demands a great deal from its servicemen and women, as is often stated in the House. They are required to follow orders without question. They and their families are often separated for long periods. Frequent moves, often at short notice, can disrupt family life. Forces accommodation is sometimes remote, making it difficult for partners and children to mix with civilian communities. Service personnel are entitled to expect as normal a family life as their military obligations permit.

Through the implementation of the service personnel Command Paper, the Labour Government worked to ensure that servicemen and women were seen not as ordinary citizens, but as people deserving the very best in public services. However, public services have not and do not always take account of their particular needs, and the Government should work across Departments to ensure that their needs are always taken into account. Major General John Moore-Bick from the Armed Forces Pension Society said:

“There is a unique nature to what armed forces families go through. This is not special pleading. In the armed forces you are asked to do things nobody else in the public sector would be asked to do. It is only right that they should have a special status.”

Governments of all parties must be committed to giving due consideration to the needs of servicemen and women, their families and veterans when it comes to public service delivery, working hard to create a level playing field so that forces families suffer no disadvantage.

Armed forces advocates were established by the Labour Government to identify and resolve policy or legislative issues that might affect the service community. They advise on how public services can best meet the service community’s needs. At present there are a number of armed forces advocates from various Government Departments, including the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health and the Treasury. This complements the work of organisations, associations and charities that offer advice and support to service personnel and their families.

The advocates network has worked well. New clause 13 would extend the existing network to ensure that all levels of government in the UK are represented and can therefore help to resolve the issues that may disadvantage our service community.

Mark Lancaster: What is the hon. Lady’s estimate of the cost of extending that body of advocates?

Gemma Doyle: I envisage that the advocates would be drawn from the staff already working in Departments, who are linked into the knowledge that exists and would be a useful point of contact for armed forces and their families interacting with those Departments and public bodies.

During the evidence sessions in Committee we heard time and again from charities that they wanted those with responsibility for the delivery of services to be involved in resolving issues, rather than the Secretary of State or a Minister directing from the centre. New clause 13 would ensure that those involved in service delivery at every level, including local government and

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NHS trusts, are aware of the special nature of service and of the need to tailor their services accordingly. We have talked a great deal about the need for accountability, and the new clause would ensure that accountability is enhanced by bringing into policy formulation and delivery those who are truly responsible for providing the service that people need.

6.45 pm

On amendment 17, it is crucial that the annual covenant report covers all the issues that are central to the covenant. At present, the limited list of three issues is subject to the mood of the Secretary of State of the day so, as already mentioned, we would like the list of fields that the Government are compelled to report on to be lengthened. It is extremely important that that includes inquests. Military inquests are often complex and controversial. Understandably, they involve high emotion and require the utmost sensitivity and real expertise.

The office of the chief coroner was established with cross-party support by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. It aimed to provide for some of the issues that arise out of military fatalities. The chief coroner’s office was intended to ensure that families and friends were sufficiently involved in the coroner’s investigation, to introduce quality controls and independent safeguards in relation to inquests, and to add consistency, leadership, independence and expertise to the coroners dealing with military inquests.

Bob Stewart: I am a bit worried about including inquests in the annual report. This is such a sensitive area and I feel that it should be taken separately. I am not fixed on that, but let us be cautious about bringing inquests into an annual report. That might appear trite or to be dealing with them too lightly, when they are such an important and sensitive matter for families. That is just a comment. Although I am not sure where exactly I stand on the issue, that is my initial feeling.

Gemma Doyle: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his observations. I certainly appreciate his concerns. There is great concern among the families who are involved in the issue. Based on their reflections, I believe that further attention needs to be given to the matter.

Mr Gray: The hon. Lady is being extremely generous with her time. I am slightly concerned by her observation that the amendment has come about as a result of representations from families. My experience, bearing in mind that all the inquests in recent years occur in Wiltshire, is that families are extremely well satisfied with Mr Masters, who has been the main coroner involved. I am not certain that there is a huge problem to be solved.

Gemma Doyle: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the office of the chief coroner was set up, following a great deal of consultation, to address issues that were raised. Indeed, it was established with cross-party support. Those issues have not gone away as far as I am aware, although I respect his experience in this matter. There have been varying reports from around the country, and that may be where the difference lies.

The office of the chief coroner is to be abolished by the Public Bodies Bill as a cost-saving measure. The Royal British Legion calls this “a betrayal” of bereaved

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armed forces families which threatens the military covenant. That intention was confirmed today in a written ministerial statement. I understand that the Government say they are transferring responsibilities, but the improvements that the new chief coroner’s office would have brought about will now be lost.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is being very generous. Trowbridge is in my constituency and it is where the military inquests have been taking place under the supervision of Mr Masters, to whom I have spoken on the issue. Does the hon. Lady accept that the main concern that families have expressed over the past several years is not to do with the lack of a chief coroner, who could easily be biddable in the way that local coroners have not been, but because there has been a disparity in the legal support given to either side? The MOD has been sponsoring—paying for—barristers in what is meant to be a non-adversarial situation, something which, happily, is no longer the case.

Gemma Doyle: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The office of the chief coroner would seek to address some of the issues that he raises about the variations and the inconsistencies in families’ experiences. Each time that the office of the chief coroner has been considered by Parliament it has been supported—twice in 2009, and just last December the other place voted to save it. The Secretary of State for Justice does not seem to be listening, and not for the first time. He cites cost as an issue, but the Royal British Legion and INQUEST have been clear that they are prepared to open discussions on how the cost can be reduced. I hope that the Minister will listen to these pleas. This is exactly the sort of decision that must be subject to greater accountability and scrutiny. At present an issue so central to the armed forces community would not be covered by the armed forces report on the covenant, and that is why we tabled the amendment. I ask the Minister today to commit to making representations on behalf of the armed forces community to keep the office of the chief coroner. I hope that at the very least the Government will support this amendment to ensure that this vital issue is reported on annually.

As I have previously said, we were all entertained in Committee by the Minister with responsibility for veterans as he performed verbal gymnastics on the issue of whether the Government were meeting the Prime Minister’s famous commitment given on the deck of the Ark Royal. However, just as important as writing the covenant into law, the Bill should provide a form of accountability so that the principles contained in the covenant mean something in reality, and that is what new clause 14 seeks to achieve.

During the debates in preparation for Green Paper in 2009, my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) tells me that he argued strongly, against the wishes of his officials, that parliamentary and local government ombudsmen should provide a system of accountability. The ombudsmen were happy to take on that work and it was included in the 2009 Green Paper—the nation’s commitment to the armed forces community: consistent and enduring support. The Opposition continue to believe that that is the right approach. In Committee, the Minister was at pains to point out that officials

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advise and Minister’s decide, but given the weak nature of what has been proposed in the Bill, it appears that his officials are more in control than he would care to admit.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): For a number of years I dealt with the case of a constituent of mine who had served in Iraq, been wounded and shipped home, and then, frankly, hung out to dry by both his former public sector employer and, to a lesser extent, the local authority. This concept of an ombudsman to take up such cases is important.

Does my hon. Friend agree that scores of hon. Members on both sides of the House are keen to see a national defence medal inaugurated so that every former soldier, sailor or airman who has served Her Majesty the Queen in the last 50 years can have a medal that they can wear with pride on Remembrance day? I hope very much that we will be given good news on that tonight.

Gemma Doyle: My right hon. Friend highlights the reason to have such ombudsmen. It is essential that there should be a system of accountability as a last resort, should all reasonable means fail. This is not about creating justiciable rights, but a system of accountability is needed if the covenant is to mean anything. Principles must be enforceable if they are to be anything more than words on a piece of paper.

We will support the amendments in the name of the Secretary of State, but we are still somewhat disappointed as we believe that the Bill could go further, specifically on the military covenant. Our amendments would strengthen those provisions and the Bill. I would very much have liked to press all our amendments, but in particular we will press amendment 16 and new clause 17.

Bob Russell: I congratulate the coalition Government on bringing forward the armed forces covenant. I served throughout the Committee—

Mr Robathan: Very well.

Bob Russell: I am grateful. Thank you.

I would like to confine my remarks on this string of amendments to the narrow subject of housing and matters relating to the welfare of Army families. However, I hope that before we finish this evening the Minister will be able to assure the Committee that not a single penny will be cut from the wages of a single member of the Parachute Regiment or 16 Air Assault Brigade more widely.

The last Government can take a lot of credit for things that they did. I hope that what happened previously, under the Veterans Minister and so on, will be built upon by the coalition Government. However, when it comes to the accommodation of the families of our military personnel, successive Governments have failed. The last Conservative and Labour Governments failed. When it comes to single people’s accommodation, Merville barracks in Colchester is the best to be found anywhere in the country, but that only sharpens the contrast with the unacceptable housing for married families. Either Colchester garrison is unique or the accommodation there is typical of that which our military families are required to live in. What makes it worse, is that former Army housing in my constituency has rightly been

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modernised to a high standard through the Department for Communities and Local Government, while on the other side of the road Army families, looking out on these modern buildings, occupy what an Army wife described in a letter to the

Essex County Standard

on Friday as the worst in the country.

That unnamed soldier’s wife says:

“I have been married to a soldier for 20 years and lived throughout in services accommodation.

The married quarters in Colchester are the worst I have ever had to live in, and the system in place to rectify faults is laughable.

The direct line puts you through to a call centre in Liverpool, to talk to someone who has no idea of the conditions you live in or the stresses you endure while your husband’s away. They will then expect you to take a day off work so a tradesman can turn up, and it’s then a lottery as to the standard of the repair.”

The letter goes on at great length to describe the woeful inadequacies of the Defence Housing Executive. The soldier’s wife says:

“We’ve given up complaining to the Defence Housing Executive, as all we get are curt replies, from staff who seemingly have never served or been married to a serving member. It is apparent they have never seen inside the properties.”

There is a critical suggestion that perhaps things have got worse since the Defence Housing Executive took over.

We are talking here of the families of soldiers who only last week marched through the centre of Colchester in a welcome home parade and the next day had a thanksgiving and memorial service at Bury St. Edmunds cathedral. Yet we expect their families to live in accommodation that this soldier’s wife described as the worst in the country. If the Government can rightly find money to modernise former Army housing to accommodate civilians, the same Government should be able to find the money to modernise housing fit for the heroes who have just returned from Helmand province.

Allied to that, the armed forces covenant refers to education. I look at education in the broader sense—not just the education of serving military personnel but the education of the children of military personnel. Once the former Army houses are occupied by civilian families, the adjoining schools, the Montgomery infant and junior schools—that gives a clue to the military ethos—will be full up. There will not be room at the Army schools for the children of Army personnel. If anything, the armed forces covenant should look at the families of military personnel as well as the serving personnel.

Dr Murrison: Will the hon. Gentleman give the Government credit for including service children in the pupil premium, which will benefit his constituents as it has done mine?

7 pm

Bob Russell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and am delighted to endorse that point. The pupil premium has been a great asset to all children of military personnel and has certainly been a great bonus for those in the five schools in my constituency that have a large proportion of service children—as much as 80% in one case. Military families also require peace of mind, and I greatly regret the fact that the previous Government dramatically reduced the number

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of Ministry of Defence police officers, from 30 to three in my constituency. I heard over the weekend that, regrettably, up to 1,000 MOD police officers are to lose their jobs.

Gemma Doyle: I sympathise entirely with the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. Does he think that it would have been appropriate for the Minister to attend the Defence Police Federation’s annual conference on Monday? I was there, but instead of looking at him I had to look at an empty chair that the Defence Police Federation had set out for him.

Bob Russell: I have no knowledge of that, but the hon. Lady has made the point and there will no doubt be a response.

Mr Robathan: Indeed there will be if I may intervene. Has the hon. Lady visited the headquarters of the MOD police in Suffolk?

The Temporary Chair (Mr Roger Gale): Order. The Minister cannot question the hon. Lady because she does not have the Floor.

Bob Russell: This is a serious issue. To the best of my knowledge, the MOD police are an integral part of the wider military family. However, over the past 10 years the previous Government were determined, as I regret the coalition Government now appear to be, to reduce MOD police numbers to the point where I suspect at some future stage we will be told that they no longer have a purpose and can be done away with. All I can say is that where there were once 30 MOD police officers serving an exclusive Army estate in excess of 2,000 dwellings, there are now just three such officers. The expectation that Essex constabulary can suddenly conjure 27 police officers to fill that breach will not be met.

We now have a situation in which we have Army families and civilian families and the demarcation between policing is not clear. The lifestyle of civilians is not always compatible with the military ethos of the service families. I am trying to choose my words carefully. All I am saying is that the presence of MOD police officers brought a security and comfort to military families which has been lost at the same time as the ethos of a 100% Army estate has been dramatically reduced. I put it to the Minister that the Government need to look carefully at their proposals to reduce dramatically the number of MOD police officers. It will have little effect in Colchester because 27 police officers have already been got rid of and, with only three left, we do not have much further to go.

I welcome the armed forces covenant, previously known as the military covenant, and congratulate the Royal British Legion on all it has done. We should all be grateful to the legion. My only regret is that some people appear to be trying to turn it into a party political football.

Mr Robathan: I will respond initially to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell). I do not want to mislead him, but I am pretty sure that the pay will continue for all members of the Parachute Regiment who are able to parachute, and

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certainly for those in parachuting jobs, so we are not scrapping parachute pay. I think that I am the only Member in the Chamber who has received pay for jumping out of aircraft, and it was very welcome at the time.

Bob Russell: May I just point out that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and I got not a single penny when we were thrown out at 13,000 feet?

Mr Robathan: Well, the hon. Gentlemen obviously got parachutes, which might not be my intention for one or two other people.

I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s serious concerns about housing, which is an ongoing problem that we wish to improve. We inherited a bad situation, but I do not question the good faith of the previous Administration because it is a difficult matter—[ Interruption. ] Well, I do not think that we can be blamed for the state of housing 14 years ago.

Mr Kevan Jones: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Robathan: Oh, apparently we can be blamed.

Mr Jones: If the previous Conservative Government had not sold off the estate to Annington Homes, which the Minister will find hamstrings him in what he can do with housing, we would be in a better position.

Mr Robathan: I do not think that we want to revisit debates from 1996 and I doubt that you, Dr McCrea, would allow it—[ Interruption. ] Shall we revisit that debate from 1996? I have to say that I had words with Ministers at the time and was not entirely enthusiastic about the policy, but there we are. It is important that we continue to work on housing because we do not wish people to live in substandard accommodation.

The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) mentioned the Defence Police Federation’s annual conference, which took place up near the Clyde, next to her constituency. The head of the federation works on the floor above me in the MOD, and I have invited him to come to talk to me about the issues. I do not think that that is particularly unreasonable, especially since the conference is taking place today and I have to be here.

I will consider the large number of amendments in three chunks. I will speak first to the Government amendments, secondly to the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) and thirdly to the official Opposition’s amendments. When the Government decided to include clause 2 in the Bill, we had two main objectives: to recognise the armed forces covenant in legislation, as we are committed to doing; and to strengthen the Government’s accountability to the House through the mechanism of an annual report on the covenant.

The clause rightly places the covenant at the heart of our national debate on whether we are treating current and former members of the armed forces as they deserve to be treated. This is not a matter in which only the Government have an interest; right hon. and hon. Members are well aware that groups that aim to speak for the

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armed forces community, including the Royal British Legion, take a close and constructive interest. The legion has now made clear its overall support for what we are trying to do in relation to the covenant. I do not apologise in any way for listening to what it and others have said and, having done so, making changes to the legislation.

Gemma Doyle: Does the right hon. Gentleman regret the process by which the Bill has come about? What exactly changed his mind?

Mr Robathan: I do not regret the process at all. What has happened—I would have thought that the hon. Lady had spotted this, because she is a capable person—is that we have been discussing and listening to things and came to the view that we might enhance the Bill, which is what we have done.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Chaos.

Mr Robathan: Contrary to what the hon. Lady says from a sedentary position—perhaps she is reading what is on her BlackBerry—it is not chaos.

Those other organisations are as concerned as the Government are to avoid the pitfalls of the covenant ending up in the courts. They have also pointed out where they think we can do better, and we have listened to them. They argued persuasively that the language of the Bill that related to the armed forces covenant report did not go far enough in explaining our intentions. Our amendments aim to put that right, and I hope that everybody in the Chamber welcomes that.

Mr Kevan Jones: So why did the Minister, along with his Liberal Democrat colleagues, argue forcefully in Committee on numerous occasions that the Bill as it then stood enshrined the covenant in law, when clearly it did not?

Mr Robathan: The hon. Gentleman, together with the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire, is continuing to fish for any minor criticisms that he can make. We have listened to what people have said and responded, and they might welcome that rather than carping at it.

Christopher Pincher: Does my right hon. Friend think that this is rather rich coming from Labour Members, and certainly from the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones)? Having had 13 long years with the time, the majorities and the money to introduce a Bill, they merely produced a Green Paper, whereas we introduced a Bill within 12 months. Is not my right hon. Friend rather proud of that?

Mr Robathan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support.

Our amendments do not seek to introduce new constraints to prevent the Secretary of State from using his discretion in preparing the report. They do not try to prejudge in detail exactly which subjects will be relevant—unlike, I fear, several of the amendments that we are discussing. Rather, they allow us to be clear about the principles to which the Secretary of State must have regard, especially now that the armed forces

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covenant has been published. The three ideas or principles contained in amendment 11 are, I trust, the subject of agreement in all parts of the Committee. The

“unique obligations of, and sacrifices made by”

our service personnel are matters of fact: the requirement to deploy anywhere in the world at no notice, to put themselves in harm’s way, and to use lethal force—all without question, as the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire said. No other part of our society is called upon to undertake those obligations. The sacrifices made not only by those who suffer injury or death, but by those who give up the kind of family life which the rest of us take for granted, are also of a different nature from what is expected of others. We are not in danger of forgetting that, but we recognise that there should be no doubt that the Secretary of State will take it into account when he is preparing the annual armed forces covenant report and considering the effects of service.

The other two principles listed in the amendment are not statements of fact in the same way, but they should command the same level of consensus. They are at the core of the Government’s and the nation’s obligations under the covenant. We can never remove all disadvantage that results from membership of the armed forces—the very nature of the job prevents it—but we can, and must, do all we can to minimise disadvantages, particularly when it concerns access to public services. In preparing the amendment, I paused for a long time over the word “desirable”. Surely it is more than desirable to remove disadvantage. “Desirable” gets overruled by words such as “essential” or “important”. Nevertheless, we must recognise that it will not always be feasible to remove every disadvantage. Therefore, in terms of legislation, we must not express the principle in language which we could never achieve. Let the Committee be in no doubt, however, that where it is appropriate to take action, the Government see that as much more than “desirable”.

The question of disadvantage is dealt with more fully in amendment 12—an important new provision that clarifies how the annual report will deal with removing or reducing disadvantage. The first part requires the Secretary of State to make a judgment about whether the effects of service constitute or result in disadvantage when he is looking at a particular field—an element of the covenant such as health care or housing. He is also required to look at service people or

“particular descriptions of service people”.

In other words, he will be looking at individual elements of the armed forces community. That could be a very broad category including families or ex-service personnel, or it could be a smaller grouping such as those injured in service or foreign and Commonwealth personnel. The Committee will understand that this gives the Secretary of State the ability to drill down to find the real problems, which often do not affect a whole group but a small part of it. The amendment also gives the Secretary of State the responsibility of deciding who should be the subject of that comparison. In some cases, the right comparison will be with the ordinary civilian; in others, it may make sense to look at a rather more specialised comparison such as with members of the emergency services.

The second part of amendment 12 sets out what the Secretary of State must do with his judgment. He must go on to say in the annual report what is his response to

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the disadvantage that he has identified. Perhaps nothing can be done about it—it may be an inevitable result of the military profession—or he may be able to announce how the matter is to be resolved, or who has responsibility for doing so. In all cases, the House will be in a position to decide whether that response is satisfactory.

7.15 pm

Returning to amendment 11, the final paragraph refers to the principle that “special provision” or special treatment “may be justified”. Again, this is expressed in a form that is appropriate to the circumstances. It is not trying to pre-ordain any particular form of special treatment—that would be quite wrong—but it establishes the key place of special treatment in the obligations that we owe to service people.

Amendment 13 adds more about special provision. It requires the Secretary of State to look at the effects of service covered in his annual report and to reach a view on whether special provision would be justified. It adds that when he believes that special provision would be justified, he must say so. As with the previous amendment, he is not obliged to treat service people as if they are a single group who must all be treated in the same way. He can again consider

“particular descriptions of service people”

and make detailed judgments about how we should respond to their circumstances.

Members of the armed forces community do not, as a rule, want special favours. They accept that they are citizens like their civilian neighbours. They expect fair treatment. They do not like finding themselves at the back of the queue because they have joined the services, but they do not insist on being at the front of the queue. However, there may be times when we wish to place them at the front of the queue. Of course, when personnel are injured in the course of their duty, or when they lose their lives, the obligations on us are even greater. We can never truly make up for the sacrifice that they or their loved ones have made, but we do make special provision for injured personnel and bereaved families, and we must look out for sensible opportunities to do more. For example, this Government have introduced scholarships in higher education for the children of those killed in service since 1990. That step has been widely welcomed, and we are now processing applications. The amendment does not require us to extend special provision in particular ways or to try to prejudge when it will be appropriate. Instead, it requires us to keep the principle at the forefront of our minds when preparing the annual report so that Parliament can decide if we have treated these particularly deserving groups in the right way.

The three amendments will mean that, for the first time, an Act of Parliament refers to the key principles of the armed forces covenant. They do this in a form which does not give them legal force in terms of individual actions but which ensures that the Secretary of State has regard to them in his important new duty to prepare a report. That will strengthen further the accountability that the Government are seeking to build.

I turn to the amendments in the name of the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, which cover a good deal of ground. New clause 2 and amendment 2 would require the creation of a new Minister for former armed services personnel. I do not take his comments

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amiss in any way. I do not think that he was particularly getting at me in suggesting that there should be such a Minister—he said specifically that he was not—but I am, of course, responsible for former armed forces personnel. As he said, ex-service personnel issues lie across the whole of Government, not just within the Ministry of Defence. However, the MOD is uniquely placed to play a leading role. After all, we run the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, and we are closely involved in the transition of members of the armed forces to civilian life. I believe—I know it to be true, in fact—that we have a special understanding of what our people have been through. For those reasons, I am confident that the current arrangements are fit for purpose. That does not mean that they cannot be improved, but we work on that as things evolve. Looking at the different roles envisaged, I can find no justification for a new post. It is right that the Secretary of State for Defence, with overall responsibility for current and former members of the armed forces, has the responsibility of preparing the annual report. I fail to see the value in requiring a Minister to conduct activities that are positive to the well-being of former services personnel. Such legislation is not necessary.

Another proposed duty is to conduct research. The MOD commissions a great deal of high-quality research relating to current and former service personnel. For example, the King’s Centre for Military Health Research has followed a cohort of more than 20,000 members of the armed forces to investigate the impact of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. We continue to work with the voluntary and communities sector to improve understanding of the issues faced by the armed forces community and to build up evidence to monitor progress. There is no need for legislation. I know that the head of the King’s Centre for Military Health Research would be willing to talk to the all-party parliamentary group for the armed forces. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue that, I think he would find it extremely useful and interesting, particularly on mental health issues.

We can consider amendment 3 in two halves. The first half would require the Secretary of State to take into account the operation of a range of instruments and bodies, which would be created in turn by new clauses 3 to 6. We do not think that those new creations are necessary. New clause 3 would require the Government to draw up a charter for former armed forces personnel. It gives a list of things that should be included. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that the proposal for a charter is overtaken by the publication of the armed forces covenant. The approach that we have taken in the covenant is better, because it avoids the creation of legal rights, which his charter could easily do. The covenant extends to service personnel and family members and is based on firm principles. In contrast, new clause 3 lists specific issues. All of them are important matters, but we believe that they are all captured in Government policy.

I will go through the list briefly. On psychological assessments, we are currently building a greater focus on mental health into service and discharge medical examinations. On resettlement, we are committed to supporting service leavers in making the important step back into civilian life. There is a full package in place, which we are looking to improve. On access to support and advice, all former service personnel facing difficulties

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have access to the free veterans helpline, which receives between 150,000 and 200,000 calls a year. We also have the veterans welfare service and the veterans in custody support programme, which provides tailored support for former personnel in the criminal justice system. None of that required a charter setting out legal requirements.

New clause 4 also focuses on support in the prison and probation systems. I note that the right hon. Gentleman feels deeply about this issue and has raised it on many occasions. I must tell him that his proposal for—[ Interruption. ]

The Temporary Chair (Dr William McCrea): Order. I ask right hon. and hon. Members to keep the noise down. We want to hear the response from the Minister. A lot of people intervened and asked questions. It is only appropriate, proper and courteous to hear the answers.

Mr Robathan: If Members have come in at the behest of the Whips because they expect a Division, they might as well go out for a bit longer, because I have a lot more to say that will delay the Division. They are very wise to do so.

New clause 4, which I was addressing, proposes a legal obligation to appoint a former armed forces personnel support officer to every prison and probation service in England and Wales. That would impose an unnecessarily legislative framework. The veterans in custody support programme focuses on the early identification of ex-service individuals who would benefit from extra support. It offers advice on a range of issues from housing and mental health to medals and war pensions. The voluntary sector provides excellent additional support.

New clause 5 would require financial support to be provided for a range of welfare groups. I pay tribute to the invaluable role played by numerous service and ex-service organisations in promoting the welfare of the armed forces community. Some have been doing so for a very long time. Only this month, we celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion. Indeed, there was a garden party—indoors because it was raining—at No. 10 on Friday, at which the Prime Minister spoke. Members of the Royal British Legion and its supporters, such as Vera Lynn, all appreciated it enormously. Similarly, last week I went to the service at the Guards chapel on the 40th anniversary of the War Widows Association of Great Britain, with which we are in touch a great deal. Many such bodies have an expert understanding of the needs of service and ex-service personnel. Their support sits alongside the provision of facilities from public funds and we have close working relationships with many of them.

However, it would not be appropriate for the Government to give general financial support to such groups. Registered charities are and should remain independent. It is right that they raise their own funding, whether they are concerned with the armed forces or not. It is a long-standing practice that central Government do not provide funds raised through taxation to assist the core activities of individual charities. In any event, given the number of charities, the Government would not be able to do that in a fair manner. I pay tribute to the many charities that are raising a great deal of money at the moment, such

14 Jun 2011 : Column 709

as Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion and Combat Stress—we have been discussing mental health. They are working to raise funds to support our armed forces and I pay tribute to them.

New clause 6 proposes the creation of a policy forum for former service personnel. Is there a need for another policy forum and, if so, do we need to legislate to create it? There are already a number of groups that help to shape the delivery of veterans’ welfare. The external reference group on the covenant brings together armed forces advocates from across Government and external members from ex-service organisations. It provides co-ordination for the effort across Government and oversight of the Government’s performance in rebuilding the armed forces covenant, and it allows ex-service organisations and other experts to influence the development of Government policy. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Confederation of British Service and Ex-Service Organisations. There are regular meetings between COBSEO and senior MOD staff and Ministers, including myself. The annual welfare conference organised by the MOD allows many smaller organisations to debate these issues. There are 13 veterans advisory and pensions committees throughout the United Kingdom that provide assistance to the service and ex-service community and local public service providers. They raise awareness in public bodies and the local community about the needs of veterans. I trust that I have made my point that establishing another former armed services personnel policy forum would not offer any tangible benefit.

I now turn to the second half of amendment 3. [ Interruption. ] For the benefit of people such as the shadow Secretary of State for Defence who have just walked in, perhaps I should repeat what I have said.

The Temporary Chair (Dr William McCrea): Order. I ask right hon. and hon. Members once again to be courteous and to listen to the responses. If they want to have conversations outside this business, they can do so outside the Chamber.

Mr Robathan: For those who have arrived recently, it would be discourteous of me to not respond to those who have raised points, such as the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd. I have yet to achieve the same length of speech as the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire. [ Interruption. ] Indeed, the night is yet young.

The second half of amendment 3 sets out nine headings that must be covered in the annual report. I do not deny the importance of any of those topics. Some are broad and some are fairly narrow, such as “debt management” and “domestic violence”. However, it is not a comprehensive list and I am sure that other hon. Members could add many suggestions. We would rather not legislate for such a list because it may change over the next few years. The question is whether we should cram all possible issues into the legislation and turn the annual covenant report into a box-ticking exercise, or whether we want to give the Secretary of State the opportunity to identify and investigate the problems that are actually faced by service people. Amendment 3 would deny the

14 Jun 2011 : Column 710

Secretary of State the flexibility to deal with the effects of service that are considered to be the most important or relevant at the time of each report.

Finally on this group of amendments I come to amendment 4, which we do not believe would add a great deal to the Bill. The Secretary of State has made it clear that he will seek views and evidence in preparing each annual covenant report. If there are issues, he will respond to them and give a time frame for implementing any recommendations. The amendment would simply get us into questions about who is and who is not an expert in this field. This country is fortunate to have an active community of well informed, constructive and articulate groups that are committed to improving the welfare of service people and want to work with the Government to achieve that. Many are brought together in the external reference group, and I can assure the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd that they are not slow in coming forward. We have stated that we will publish their observations alongside the annual report.

7.30 pm

I now turn to the official Opposition’s amendments. I know that Opposition Members who have just come in will be particularly keen to hear about them—[Interruption] —especially the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy).

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): I’ll take her out.

Mr Robathan: I do not think the hon. Gentleman needs to offer to do that. That is a bit sexist, if you ask me, but there we go.

The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire asked earlier from a sedentary position where we got the idea from that there was a £38 billion black hole. May I tell her that it came from the National Audit Office report “Ministry of Defence: The Major Projects Report 2010”?

Mr Kevan Jones: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Robathan: Well, Dr McCrea—[Hon. Members: “Give way!”] Go on then, why not?

Mr Jones: I am sorry, but if the Minister reads the NAO report, he will see that it states that the figure is between £6 billion and £37 billion. The only way we can get to the £37 billion figure is if we include all the forward programming for the forward thing. The problem is that, like a lot of his colleagues, he cannot get away from the spin of central office.

Hon. Members: Forward thing?

Mr Robathan: The hon. Gentleman talks about the “forward thing”, but we have to do the sums, and I am afraid his maths is obviously not very good. If he does not believe that the Ministry of Defence is short of money, he is wrong.

The Opposition’s amendment 16 represents a further attempt to reduce the discretion of the Secretary of State to consider which subjects to include when preparing his annual report. I have three difficulties with it, and

14 Jun 2011 : Column 711

they lead me to oppose it.


I can find more, if the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) would like.

Lyn Brown: I look forward to it.

Mr Robathan: Well, one is that the amendment, no doubt with the best of intentions, describes in more detail the subjects to be covered in the covenant report. As drafted, clause 2 requires the Secretary of State to address accommodation, health care, including mental health care, and education. We have included those topics because it is pretty inconceivable that there would ever be circumstances in which they were not relevant. However, the list is meant to be illustrative, not comprehensive. Any attempt to be comprehensive in the clause would run the risk of missing out something significant, and it would be doomed to become out of date as circumstances change. All the topics listed in the amendment are important and deserve consideration by Parliament, yet the list leaves out many other important matters such as pay, recognition and how we treat personnel on deployed operations.

That leads to the second difficulty with amendment 16. Its supporters may argue that if they fail to make their list comprehensive, the gaps will be filled in by others, hence the reference to

“such other fields as the External Reference Group may determine.”

I am a great admirer of the work of the external reference group, as I have made clear to the House on numerous occasions. By coincidence—[Interruption.] The shadow Secretary of State obviously does not want to hear my response to his colleague the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire, who has raised a great deal that needs to be covered in the debate. That is why we have a Committee stage in the House of Commons.

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): No!

Mr Robathan: He obviously does not realise that.

By coincidence, the external reference group is meeting tomorrow. I offered to go to the meeting, but it wished to consider how it may respond to the covenant report when it comes out. After discussions, it was thought that I might be in the way rather than anything else. The group’s advice and expertise will be of huge benefit to the Government in preparing the annual report, but we cannot place on the group the duty of deciding what subjects the Secretary of State will cover. That must be his decision, so that he is answerable to the House for it.

Finally—[Interruption.] I mean finally on amendment 16. It would remove the reference to “particular descriptions” of service personnel. That is a vital provision, despite the slightly arcane language, because it allows the Secretary of State to distinguish between different groups rather than cover the whole of the armed forces community when there is no need to do so. Leaving it out would make the annual report unwieldy and less useful.

That leads us directly to amendment 17. Inquests are a crucial part of how we support those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. Two of my hon. Friends from Wiltshire mentioned the matter earlier. Although inquests allow families to learn in detail how their loved ones died, and help them to reach closure, they also bring home to all of us the

14 Jun 2011 : Column 712

tragedy of loss and the cost of the operations on which we are embarked. Ensuring that the inquest system is fit for its very important purpose is a responsibility that the Government must never forget.

However, the amendment makes for me precisely the point that I raised earlier. It is an afterthought. Having tried to list the subjects that the Secretary of State should cover, the Opposition realised that they had left one out. That shows the weakness of trying to come up with a comprehensive list in legislation. Next week, people might come up with another category, but it would be too late to amend the Bill. I hope that we can look forward to a happier time when the operation of the inquest system is of less concern to the armed forces community because we are not involved in deployed operations and there are no fatalities.

Gemma Doyle: It is somewhat rich for the Minister to say that it is we who are treating inquests as an afterthought, given that it is his Government who have scrapped the office of the chief coroner. How would he respond—I urge him to make it a brief response—to the comment of the Royal British Legion that it is a betrayal of service families to scrap that office?

Mr Robathan: Unfortunately, as the Members on either side of the hon. Lady—the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and the shadow Secretary of State—will understand, I cannot speak for the Ministry of Justice. It would be beyond my remit. May I also say that she spoke for longer than I have yet achieved? Don’t worry, I’m working on it.

New clause 13 relates to armed forces advocates. Advocates are an excellent idea, and in UK Government Departments and the devolved Administrations they face in two directions. They ensure that their own Department’s policies take account of the special needs of the armed forces community, and they communicate their Department’s perspective to my officials and external stakeholders.

I turn briefly to new clause 14, on the ombudsmen. I pay tribute to the parliamentary and local government ombudsmen for their work. I do not think any of us doubt the important role that they can play in helping members of the armed forces community, and they have welcomed the familiarisation events that my officials have organised. However, the new clause is unclear about what exactly the ombudsmen are intended to do, and we are not minded to accept it. The Government will continue to work with public bodies and local authorities to implement our commitments, and we will encourage them to help to remove the disadvantage faced by service people and afford them special treatment where appropriate. The ombudsmen have a vital role to play, but it is not the one described in the new clause.

Finally—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] Yes, finally, I come to the Opposition’s new clause 17. Once again, the concept outlined in it is perfectly reasonable. I want, just as much as the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire does, a world in which those who make policy take into account the needs of members of the armed forces community as a matter of routine. The best way of ensuring that we avoid problems of disadvantage is to prevent them from happening in the first place. The issue is how to achieve that. We must consider whether the right course of action is to create a legal duty to

14 Jun 2011 : Column 713

have regard to certain matters, or to adopt a more practical approach. In the Government’s view, placing a general duty on all public bodies and Ministers in the preparation of all policy would be unhelpful and unfocused. It would lead to more of a box-ticking culture and a cottage industry of assessments. As I have said throughout the debates on the Bill, we are interested in results and want the armed forces community to be looked after better, but that does not involve box-ticking.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I agree with the Minister that results and outcomes are the most important thing, but with reference to the earlier discussion on devolution, how will he ensure that all servicemen and women and ex-servicemen and women are treated equally in all parts of the United Kingdom? There may be some resistance at devolved level, particularly in Northern Ireland where vetoes are in operation.

Mr Robathan: The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I know that he takes the matter very seriously. We did not put forward the devolution settlement, of course—that was done by the previous Government—but we are working with all three devolved Administrations to try to ensure that there is no disadvantage to any ex-service person. However, I absolutely take on board his point and the particular circumstances that he mentions.

Rather than the system set out in new clause 17, I would prefer one in which I and my ministerial colleagues across Government continue to work with public bodies to ensure as far as possible that they take account of the armed forces covenant in their preparation of policy. Much progress has already been made, and the imposition of a new statutory duty would not be of benefit.

The Government look to the annual report to be a powerful, flexible tool to focus Parliament’s attention on the key issues of the time. I fear that the Opposition’s proposed amendments would make that task more difficult and impose a package of unnecessary processes. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] I have only another 300 pages to go, but I shall leave it at that, and allow the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd to wind up.

Mr Llwyd: I am not altogether happy with the Minister’s response—in fact, I am desperately unhappy with it—but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 16, page 2, leave out lines 8 to 12 and insert—

(a) education;

(b) accommodation;

(c) healthcare;

(d) mental healthcare;

(e) pensions and benefits;

(f) employment and training;

(g) support for reservists and their employers;

(h) the running of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme;

(i) progress on Armed Forces rehabilitation services; and

(j) such other fields as the External Reference Group may determine.’.—(Gemma Doyle.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 223, Noes 283.

Division No. 291]

[7.40 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jon

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Rosie

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Mr Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doyle, Gemma

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Wicks, rh Malcolm

Williams, Hywel

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Angela Smith and

Lilian Greenwood


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Amess, Mr David

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brake, Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Mr Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Cameron, rh Mr David

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Chishti, Rehman

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Hayes, Mr John

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Mrs Louise

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Julian

Soames, Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

James Duddridge and

Norman Lamb

Question accordingly negatived.

14 Jun 2011 : Column 714

14 Jun 2011 : Column 715

14 Jun 2011 : Column 716

14 Jun 2011 : Column 717

Amendments made: 11, page 2, line 12, at end insert—

‘(2A) In preparing an armed forces covenant report the Secretary of State must have regard in particular to—

(a) the unique obligations of, and sacrifices made by, the armed forces;

(b) the principle that it is desirable to remove disadvantages arising for service people from membership, or former membership, of the armed forces; and

(c) the principle that special provision for service people may be justified by the effects on such people of membership, or former membership, of the armed forces.’.

Amendment 12, page 2, line 12, at end insert—

‘(2B) An armed forces covenant report must state whether, in the Secretary of State’s opinion, any effects covered by the report are such that service people or particular descriptions of service people are at a disadvantage as regards the field or fields in question, when compared with other persons or such descriptions of other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

14 Jun 2011 : Column 718

(2C) Where the Secretary of State’s opinion is that service people or particular descriptions of service people are at a disadvantage as mentioned in subsection (2B), the report must set out the Secretary of State’s response to that.’.

Amendment 13, page 2, line 12, at end insert—

‘(2D) As regards effects covered by an armed forces covenant report—

(a) the Secretary of State must consider whether the making of special provision for service people or particular descriptions of service people would be justified; and

(b) where the Secretary of State considers that such provision would be justified, the report must contain a reference to that fact.’.—(Mr Robathan .)

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill .

Clauses 3 to 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clauses 15 to 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to .

Clauses 27 and 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to .

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 4 and 5 agreed to.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 31, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 32 and 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Closure or realignment of Armed Forces bases

‘(1) Prior to commencing a programme of closure or realignment of Armed Forces bases the Secretary of State must—

(a) prepare a base closure report;

(b) lay a copy of the report before Parliament.

(2) The Secretary of State may not proceed with any realignment or closure of armed forces bases without the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

(3) In this section a “base closure report” is the recommendation of the Ministry of Defence for the future Armed Forces basing requirements of the United Kingdom and British Overseas Territories including the criteria used when reaching its recommendations and the priority given to each criterion.

(4) In this section an “Armed Forces base” is a base or series of installations consisting of facilities necessary for the support of the British Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force including security, communications, utilities, plants and systems, or property for which the Armed Forces have responsibility.

(5) In this section “realignment” means any action that alters the function of a base or any action for the purpose of transitioning the base to serve another branch of the Armed Forces.’.—(Thomas Docherty.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Temporary Chair (Dr William McCrea): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 16—UK Defence Base Closure and Realignment Commission

‘(1) An independent UK Defence Base Closure and Realignment Commission shall be established.

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(2) The Commission shall be comprised of 12 members reflecting the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.

(3) The Select Committee on Defence of the House of Commons shall, within a fortnight of the conclusion of a Strategic Defence and Security Review, propose the membership of the Commission, giving due weight to—

(a) the nations and regions of the United Kingdom;

(b) military and strategic expertise; and

(c) experience in assessment of economic impacts.

(4) The proposed membership shall be subject to approval by resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

(5) The Commission shall convene following the conclusion of a Strategic Defence and Security Review to consider a draft force structure plan submitted by the Secretary of State for Defence, and shall arrange for its reports to be laid before Parliament within six months of the conclusion of such a Review.

(6) The Commission will make recommendations for base closures and realignments following consideration of the force structure plan, the economic effects of a closure or realignment of a military installation and the strategic military presence across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.

(7) The Secretary of State shall lay a draft Order in Council to give effect to the recommendations of the Commission which shall be brought into effect only if approved by resolution of both Houses.

(8) The Secretary of State shall not give effect to the draft structure plan referred to in subsection (5) until parliamentary proceedings under subsection (7) are concluded.’.

Amendment 1, title, line 2, after ‘Police’, insert

‘to provide for parliamentary control of proposals to close or realign bases for the armed forces.’.

Thomas Docherty: New clause 1 stands in my name and those of several colleagues. It is a pleasure, once again, Dr McCrea, to serve under your chairmanship. I very much enjoyed serving on the Finance Bill under your leadership, and I hope that you will keep me in order as we go through this evening’s proceedings.

New clause 1 should be relatively non-contentious. We have seen, in the last strategic defence and security review, an unprecedented attack on our defence of the realm capabilities: we have seen, as the Secretary of State himself admits, a Treasury and financially driven round of armed forces restructuring; we are seeing the British Army reduced significantly; we have already seen the closure of RAF Kinloss, as well as the loss of our Nimrod capability, which, as the First Sea Lord admitted to the Defence Committee, has placed our maritime surveillance capabilities at a severe disadvantage; and we are also bringing home the British Army from the Rhine.

Each Government, over the past 40 or 50 years, have reconfigured our armed forces structure to best suit the challenges as they have seen them, but never before have we seen one so radical and based not on the nation’s defence needs, but on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s needs. For that reason, there is great concern in communities up and down the country that decisions are being made not by the Ministry of Defence, but by the Treasury, and that therefore those decisions are not being made because they are the correct defence decisions but because they are the most expedient or financially convenient for the Treasury and in order to save money.

I have great respect for the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan) and his ministerial colleagues, and I know that they are fighting valiantly to persuade the

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Chancellor that he is plain wrong, but we cannot assume—because we have not seen any letters yet from the Secretary of State to his counterparts—that he will be successful in persuading the Treasury to provide additional money. If the MOD team are unsuccessful, next month there will be some extremely bad news for a number of communities throughout the United Kingdom.

Bob Russell: Will the hon. Gentleman explain what a Labour Government would be doing differently, because I have heard nothing from Opposition Front Benchers to indicate that they would be doing anything different.

8 pm

Thomas Docherty: I will happily answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. In fact, I would point him towards his colleague, the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who has articulated exactly what is wrong with the defence review. What would normally happen is what happened in the defence review that Lord Robertson of Port Ellen carried out in 1998. The correct order of events is to begin by determining our foreign policy objectives and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, what the strategic defence risks facing our nation are. He and I would probably agree on the likely scenarios—one would undoubtedly involve Tehran; another would be terrorism. From those two decisions, we would determine the defence posture that we needed to adopt. Having determined that defence posture, we would configure our armed forces to deliver it. Finally, we would sit down and have a relatively civilised conversation with the Treasury about how best that could be funded. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman’s Government have done the absolute reverse. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said to the Defence Secretary, “This is your pot of money. Now you need to make your armed forces fit it.”

Our Front Bench team has made it absolutely clear that we would freeze this defence review and have another, fresh defence review based on the criteria and priorities that I have set out. We have made it clear that we would not close RAF Lossiemouth, RAF Leuchars or RAF Marham. We would also approach bringing home the troops from Germany in the following way. First, moving 18,000 soldiers and their dependants back to the United Kingdom would have to be in the best interests of the Army. Secondly, we would make the needs of their families the top priority. The hon. Gentleman has a long record of standing up for constituents at his local Army base, and he will know that we face housing challenges. When we debated the issue previously—in December, I think—he and I were at one in recognising that the previous Government did a lot of work to improve the housing of the families of those in our armed forces, but there is still a lot more to be done.

Notwithstanding the redundancies that will take place, one of the greatest challenges in bringing back that part of the Army that is based in Germany will be in rehousing probably half the current number and their families at bases around the United Kingdom. I tabled a number of parliamentary questions earlier this year to ask the Government what discussions they had had with the Scottish Government and the Department for Education about how we would educate the 7,000 children who are currently being educated in Germany. It will

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probably shock the Committee to discover that the Government have had no conversations at all with either the Scottish Government or the Department for Education about how to move 7,000 children back from Germany into schools in this country.

I do not know whether the Under-Secretary—[ Interruption . ]I know that he is paying close attention to this discussion, but will he update the Committee on what discussions he has had with the Scottish Government or the Department for Education in recent weeks. I suspect that the answer will be: “Not much more than we’d had several weeks ago.” Therefore, to answer the question that the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) asked—some time ago now—before we made any decisions, not only would we conduct a thorough, rational defence review, but we would ensure that the infrastructure was in place to house those armed forces personnel and their families.

As we have debated the issue over the past eight months, it has become increasingly clear that the ongoing briefing, leaks and speculation coming out of parts of both the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury have been causing a great deal of distress in various parts of the country. I know that the Minister would dissociate himself from any such leaks or briefings against the Army or the Air Force, or about the thinking, but we have left those communities in a state of uncertainty and limbo for too long.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problem is not just the distress caused to the service and non-service communities in places such as Moray, Fife, Norfolk and elsewhere? Scores of businesses are going to the wall because of the delay in the review process. It is absolutely right to highlight the distress caused for service families—“Will I remain in service?”, “Will I remain here?”, “What will I do with my house?”, “What will I do about the education of my children?”—but there is also an existential question for the many people in those areas whose businesses are going to the wall totally unnecessarily.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. One thing that the Government have not yet fully grasped is that a lot of those service personnel will have been at their bases for significant periods, particularly those at Royal Air Force bases. Indeed, one of the differences between the Army and the Air Force is that those in the Royal Air Force tend to spend the vast majority of their careers based in one location. I was recently told the story of some aircraft mechanics who had been at the same base for going on for two decades. People make family connections. Their husbands or wives move with them permanently to the bases at which they are stationed, and they then seek local employment and raise their families in the area. There will also be local businesses that depend on work from those RAF bases, as the hon. Gentleman said. They now face a period of great uncertainty.

I say very gently to the Minister that we have seen the date gradually slipping back. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that our understanding now is that we will not get a decision until the very day that the House rises. I would not for a moment seek to besmirch the Ministry

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of Defence’s thinking, but some uncharitable people outside the Chamber might suggest that the Government were hoping to sneak out the announcement on the last day when no one was looking, although I am sure that Mr Speaker would ensure that the Secretary of State at least came to the Chamber.

Mr Robathan: Were any Minister to try to slip something out on the last day, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would be here to ensure that they did not get away with it.

Thomas Docherty: I am grateful to the Minister for that, and I am happy to confirm that I will not be going anywhere on the last day for that reason. However, I am sure that if the Secretary of State waited until the last moment and if it then slipped his mind to request an oral statement, Mr Speaker would ensure, for the probity of the House, that he found a suitable opportunity—

Mr Robathan indicated dissent.

Thomas Docherty: The Minister shakes his head. I understand that there might be some vacancies coming up at the Department of Health shortly. I think that he might be up for promotion, so I could not possibly comment on whether he would be on the Front Bench next to the Secretary of State for Health—although the Defence Secretary is a GP, of course, and would be eminently suitable as a Health Secretary, if such a vacancy were to come up. However, having to wait until 19 July—the last day before the recess—is frankly not a comfortable position to be in.

I understand why the Ministry of Defence did not wish to make an announcement during the period of purdah for the Scottish elections. When the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife had a debate in the House on RAF Leuchars in January, the Minister of State made it clear that he did not wish to do anything that might upset the election results—I should point out to him that putting that decision off did not do the Lib Dems much good in North East Fife. However, we are now well past the Scottish elections. There is no particular reason why the Government could not come to the House now and announce the decisions that we know they have made.

The purpose of my new clause is to ensure parliamentary oversight of the decisions made by the Ministry of Defence. As I said earlier, we are talking about a unique set of closures. We have probably not seen anything like it since the days when Denis Healey was a Minister for the armed forces and we reconfigured and abandoned our positions east of Aden. Now, however, the decisions are being driven entirely by the Treasury.

The purpose of new clause 1, which thankfully I will not read into the record, is not to affect the way in which the Ministry of Defence gathers information. It does not seek to make the process more transparent or, as the Minister said earlier, to tie the hands of the Government so that they cannot carry out these processes. The new clause proposes that, once the Ministry of Defence has determined which bases it wants to close or realign—for example, by switching their use from the Royal Air Force to the Army, or, as we read in Scotland on Sunday at the weekend, by switching the Condor base in Arbroath from the Royal Marines to the Army—the

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decisions would be subject to two conditions. First, the Secretary of State would be required to lay a report before the House setting out not only his rationale for making the decisions but the weighting he has given.

Those colleagues who have attended the Adjournment debates on these matters here and in Westminster Hall will have noticed that there has been inconsistency between the views expressed by the various Ministers in the Ministry of Defence about what weighting is being given to each of the criteria: the Secretary of State, the Minister of State and the other Under-Secretary of State—he is the Minister for aviation, as far as I can tell—seem to have different views. One Minister will tell us that the finances are paramount; another will say that defence needs come first; yet another will tell us that the RAF’s needs are the most important, while another says that the Army’s needs are the priority. Then we get back to the arguments about the socio-economic arguments and the wider impacts of the decisions that the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) has mentioned. Those are all valid arguments, and the Ministry is right to consider the socio-economic factors, the financial costs to the Treasury and how best a base can be recycled for use by another service. However, that all needs to be done in a transparent and coherent manner.

Mr Dodds: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case. He referred earlier to the unique context in which he is proposing his new clause. Does he not regret the fact that a Bill such as this was never introduced under the Labour Government? We have suffered base closures in Northern Ireland that had a serious impact on the local communities, yet none of these considerations was discussed at the time, despite the best efforts of some of us to point out the consequences. I know that the hon. Gentleman cannot go back in time, but will he acknowledge that that is the case?

Thomas Docherty: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention; I know that he takes a keen interest in the armed forces. He is right to say that the previous Government did not get everything right, but I am not sure whether a Bill was ever introduced to put this process on to a statutory footing. I think that the idea is relatively new. I first came across it when, as part of the British-American Parliamentary Group, I visited the Pentagon last September. The process was explained to the delegation at that time; I think that it has been in place there for about 18 years. It is possible, therefore, that previous Governments were not fully au fait with how the system has worked in America, and that could be why we have not had this debate before. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the closures that took place in Northern Ireland were, thankfully, driven by the peace process and by the leadership of the then Prime Minister and members of parties that are present today. That is obviously different from the situation today, in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is calling the shots—please pardon the pun—on the Ministry of Defence.

Under the new clause, the Secretary of State would compile a report setting out what weight he was giving to each of the criteria, which might be quite mixed. Having had a chance to review the report, a future Defence Select Committee might wish to invite the

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Secretary of State to appear before it and to scrutinise it, although I cannot bind any such Committee to do so. The report would then be subject to a straight-up-and-down vote in the House. There would not be an option to cherry-pick individual bases; it would be a straight-up-and-down report, as they have in the United States. If the House really felt that the Government had got it wrong, it would send the matter back and ask the Government to reconsider.

8.15 pm

Crucially, no one could play politics with the process, because they could not pick off one individual base. For example, if there were a base in what was previously a Lib-Dem seat—I suspect that there will not be many of those left after the next election—or in one of the new Conservative marginals that might pop up, it is quite possible that a less strong-minded Secretary of State for Defence might give in to parliamentary pressure from his colleagues. The process I propose would prevent that from happening, because it involves a straight-up-and-down vote. Only when the Secretary of State had gained parliamentary approval could he proceed with the closure of the bases.

I want briefly to comment on new clause 16, tabled by the hon. Member for Moray, for which he is keen to press the case. I have adopted a very different approach from his. The key factor for me and other members of the Defence Committee when we visited the Pentagon in April was that the process should be kept in-house, and my approach would keep it within the Ministry of Defence. I suspect that the Minister, who I know is studying hard before making his response, will be busy coming up with new arguments. The problem that he has with the new clause is that it would keep the discretion over decision making within the MOD. I think that the American process takes two years, and I am concerned about the uncertainty that that could cause if a similar process were adopted here. I look forward to hearing how the hon. Member for Moray would prevent the process from spilling over in that way. I am sure that the Minister has worked up a thorough and detailed response, and I also look forward to hearing his arguments.

Angus Robertson: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty). I have listened closely to his arguments, and I found them tremendously persuasive. When discussing his new clause and mine, the question we must ask is whether the way in which the Ministry of Defence deals with base closures or realignments is adequate. Is the way in which the criteria are established widely understood? Is there transparency and consistency in the process?

It is well known to the Minister that I represent the most defence-dependent constituency in Scotland. We have already heard about the sad and, I believe, avoidable closure of RAF Kinloss. The present basing review is also considering the potential to make this a unique double base closure involving RAF Lossiemouth as well. I therefore have a close understanding of the way in which the Ministry of Defence deals with base closures and realignments. I hope that, having listened to me and the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, the Minister will at least concede that there are areas in which improvements could be made.

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The Secretary of State has been gracious with his time, and he has met me on three occasions to discuss the impact of base closure considerations in order that I might share those matters with the community that I represent. The insight from those meetings was quite constructive, because what he said to me then was not what he has said in the Chamber thus far. On the day of the announcement of the strategic defence and security review, he told me that he understood that Moray was a very defence-dependent constituency, and that any delay would cause distress to the service and non-service personnel and have an impact on the local economy. He was confident that the basing review affecting RAF Lossiemouth would be concluded by December—December 2010.

Shortly thereafter, the Secretary of State had another meeting with me at which he said that the considerations in the basing review had changed. He said that it was no longer just a consideration about where Tornado aircraft should be based—and hence a straight choice between RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Marham—as the Ministry of Defence was looking at issues such as the repatriation of UK forces from Germany, so it made sense for the Department to roll into one all the issues around basing. He was confident at that time that a recommendation would be made by the Department by February and that the decision would be taken within weeks thereafter. That meant spring 2011. Then, at our third meeting, I was told that the announcement on RAF Lossiemouth and all other bases would not take place on the second date that had been promised, but would take place some time before the summer recess.

I have to tell the Minister that I represent people who are making decisions about their mortgages, their rent and their children’s education, and businesses that are finding it difficult enough in these times of economic austerity to get a loan from the bank and are holding it together from one month to the next. Thus, having been told authoritatively, as I was by the Secretary of State, that an announcement would be made within weeks—that is, before Christmas—it is not good enough to then be told that, unfortunately, because the criteria for the basing decisions were being changed it would not happen until the spring after the recommendation at the end of February and on and on, only to be told at the end that we shall have to wait until just before the summer recess. That is no way to run a basing review.

When we talk about a covenant, it should not be a covenant only with our service personnel; surely it should also be a covenant with the communities that have associations, long and deep, with the armed forces, whether they be based in Fife, Moray, Norfolk or anywhere else. The Ministry of Defence owes it to our defence communities to treat them better than they have been treated throughout this basing review.

My experience led me to try to understand what represents best practice—what I encountered is certainly not best practice—in the United Kingdom. I visited the United States, which has two approaches that I believe it is important for Members who care about defence matters to understand. Frankly, I believe them to be the gold standard.

First, the process through which decisions on base realignment and closure are considered in the United States is totally transparent. The criteria need to be

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explained by the Department of Defence in the US—and the procedure is not ad hoc. First of all, the DOD needs to come forward with an explanation of how it plans to base its service personnel. These matters have since time immemorial—whether it be in the United States or in the United Kingdom—always been the subject of discussion and questions arise such as whether there has been political intervention. Are decisions made more on the basis of geography, which might have more to do with the advantage of political parties, than on military or strategic considerations?

The US took a decision more than 20 years ago that it needed to deal with base realignments and closure in a totally different way. It still protected the important role of the Department of Defence in making suggestions about what it believed needed to happen, about which bases should remain open and which should be changed through use realignment. What I have sought to crystallise in my new clause is the fact that a commission was created and its members were people with real military experience. Nominations were made from both sides of the aisle to ensure that it was a non-partisan process.

The commission’s criteria include ensuring that the impact of the decisions brings about a defence footprint across the United States—not just in one or other part of it—and looking closely at the recommendations of the DOD. The commission then makes a recommendation that goes to the Hill for approval on a “yea or nay, take it or leave it” basis. This ensures that party political considerations are taken out of the equation. It ensures that the recommendations coming forth from the commission make sense across the US. All the legislators I spoke to from both sides of US politics said that this process was a Godsend, which had made a profound difference to how these matters were dealt with in the US. I believe that that is worthy of consideration.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife made the point that it is important to have parliamentary oversight; I totally agree. The way in which our review has been conducted over recent months has, frankly, been lamentable. For one thing, those of us who are reasonably close to understanding how the processes have worked are aware that the criteria have changed and that political decisions have been made about how many bases should be in different parts of the UK, with people then being asked to get a fit around which bases they should be. That is no way to run an orderly base realignment after the strategic defence and security review has been concluded.

I agree that there should be parliamentary oversight; this should not be conducted only by the Ministry of Defence. I have no reason to believe that the information provided to Ministers to help them make their decision is not well thought through: I am sure it is, but it has taken such a long time. The issue is not just about parliamentary approval, however, as there needs to be a degree of independent insight, which is why I believe we should have a commission nominated by the Defence Select Committee.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman says that the information might have been well thought out within the Ministry of Defence, but is it not the case that what we have seen is a rushed and ill-thought-out defence review that was thrown together on the back of a fag packet at the very last minute? That applies to the

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decision to take the Ark Royal out of service and the decision on the aircraft carriers. Is not the Ministry of Defence now having to play catch-up after the ill-conceived decisions made last October?

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman makes valid criticisms of the SDSR, but I am talking specifically about the process in which issues of base realignment and closure are addressed. There was some debate across the Chamber about the criticisms of the SDSR, but I think that might have detracted from both the hon. Gentleman’s proposals and mine. Frankly, our proposals should win favour from the Government Front-Bench team. Why? Because this is the gold standard. This is the best way in which the very difficult process of base realignment and closure has been dealt with, very effectively, by another nation.

I have not yet decided whether to press the new clause to the vote. My proposals might be new to the Government Front-Bench team, so I will be looking for assurances that the Government acknowledge that the process of base realignment and closure should be subject to improvement. If the Government propose ways of ensuring that there will be no delays, that there will be transparency, and that the criteria used in the current round of base realignments and closures will be changed, I may be persuaded not to press the new clause to a vote. However, I believe that communities—in Moray, in Fife, in Norfolk or anywhere else—that have suffered as a result of delays deserve something better. If at least one good thing comes out of this botched process, namely an acknowledgement from the Government that they could and should improve it, I will not proceed with my new clause, in the hope that the Government will return at some stage with better-thought-through approach for the future.

Gemma Doyle: The Government have created a huge amount of worry and uncertainty through their decisions about bases in Scotland and, indeed, other parts of the country. It is entirely understandable that communities feel aggrieved about the process that the Government are undertaking, and I sympathise with the aims of both my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) and the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). As we have heard, serious complaints have been made about the process. Defence Ministers have been dragged into the House on a number of occasions of late, and this is yet another area in which they need to get their act together.

8.30 pm

Mr Robathan: I have huge sympathy for those who have been put in a position of uncertainty and, perhaps, adversely affected by the closure of bases. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) has stood up for his constituents a great deal, and he has made the point that it is his job to make. I take that entirely on board. I am afraid I cannot say that we will change everything, but I will deal with his points later. First, however, I will deal with what was said by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty)—and let me say for the avoidance of doubt that I do know who he is.

New clause 1 is very unwelcome at a time when we are trying to streamline the way in which the Government conduct operations. It would require the prior approval

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of both Houses of Parliament to any alteration in the function of, and any closure of, any of our bases anywhere in the world. As well as bases in the United Kingdom, it would affect bases in Germany, Cyprus, the Falkland Islands and Afghanistan. That would hamstring our operations. It would involve our revealing publicly our plans and, no doubt, a great deal of highly sensitive information so that the Houses could debate it.

Even assuming that the real intention of the new clauses and amendment relate only to bases in the United Kingdom, as I am sure is the case, I believe that the proposed action would be inappropriate. In practice, Parliament would be notified of any major base closures or realignments. The Department already undertakes a significant amount of consultation on stake sales with local authorities, interest groups, trade unions and local Members of Parliament. Notwithstanding the widespread view that we do not listen, I have undertaken consultation with local Members of Parliament about certain cases, not necessarily involving big bases but involving MOD sites. I have taken a couple of issues very much to heart, and am looking into them in detail. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not just a case of window-dressing.

Base closures and changes are already subject to a number of legislative requirements through, for example, planning consents and the need for sustainability assessments. Parliament already has ample opportunity to make its views about proposed major changes known to the Government, and Parliament and indeed the nation will no doubt hold the Government to account for the decisions that they make. We believe, however, that it must be right for the Government to make those decisions. Requiring advance approval would constitute an abandonment of the Government’s responsibility, and would make vital strategic decision-making impossible.

Thomas Docherty: I asked earlier what discussions the MOD had been having with stakeholders such as the Scottish Government and the Department for Education about school provision, which was clearly a huge problem. Are those discussions still taking place?

Mr Robathan: The Minister for the Armed Forces has been dealing with specific bases. I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the information for which he has asked, but I should be happy for him to meet me or, perhaps more appropriately, my hon. Friend to discuss the issue. I shall mention that to my hon. Friend, although he will spot it in Hansard in any event. Amendment 1, of course, is linked to new clause 1.

I did not know that the hon. Member for Moray had engaged in a discussion that seems to have continued for longer than he may have wished, but I think it important for us to get this right. Contrary to what people think, we care what happens not just to our service personnel but to the people who work in and around service bases, because it affects their lives. I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has taken a close interest in the review of defence basing and estates requirements over the last year, not only to represent his constituency interests but because RAF Lossiemouth has featured heavily in speculation. Given that the hon. Gentleman is his party’s defence spokesman, of course he is interested in what is happening in Scotland.

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One of the problems with this new clause is to do with the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in the United States. The hon. Gentleman may have offered that before as a model that we should follow, but we take the view that the Defence Secretary must act in the best interests of defence—that is what he is appointed to do—and where defence assets and personnel are based must depend on strategic considerations for the security and defence of the United Kingdom and value for money for the taxpayer.

I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for the process used in the United States, but in our parliamentary system the Secretary of State for Defence is accountable to Parliament in a way that does not apply in the United States. Members of Parliament can, and do, make representations directly to Ministers, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that those representations are heard. This is not pure window dressing, so I hope he, too, will not press his amendment to a Division.

Thomas Docherty: I will be brief, as an important set of new clauses are to be discussed next and I know colleagues wish to have a full debate on them.

I have been heartened by some of the Minister’s remarks. I did not agree with all he has said, but he nevertheless offered an eloquent defence of his position. I was particularly heartened by his offering me a meeting with his ministerial colleague, the Minister for the Armed Forces, and I will be delighted to accept that offer. In turn, I am sure he will be delighted to know that the Defence Committee has decided to undertake a review of the basing decisions in the autumn. I suspect he and his colleagues will therefore eagerly anticipate appearing before the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), who chairs the Select Committee, along with his Select Committee colleagues, including myself.

Based on the assurances I have received and the good debate we have had this evening, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 7

Voluntary discharge of under-18s

‘(1) The Armed Forces Act 2006 (c. 52) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 329 (Terms and conditions of enlistment and service), after subsection (3) there is inserted—

“(3A) The regulations shall make provision that any person under the age of 18 shall be entitled to end their service with a regular force by giving not less than 14 days’ notice in writing to their commanding officer, and shall ensure that any person enlisting under the age of 18 is informed of this right when they enlist.”’.—(Dr Huppert.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Temporary Chair (Dr William McCrea): With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 11 —Enlistment of minors

‘(1) The Armed Forces Act 2006 is amended as follows.

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(2) In section 328(2)(c) (Enlistment) the words “without the consent of prescribed persons” are omitted.’.

Dr Huppert: It is a great pleasure to move this amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), who is present. It would allow under-18s to leave the armed forces as of right, if they so wished. There have already been some discussions on this with the Minister, so I shall not detain the Committee for too long. It is an important issue, however, and a number of groups have worked hard, along with my hon. Friend, myself and others, to press for this change. I wish to note in particular the efforts of the Quakers in Britain, especially Michael Bartlet, who has spearheaded much of the awareness-raising that has led to our reaching this point.

The proposal to allow under-18s to leave as of right has also been supported by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I should declare that I was a member of it at the time, which may or may not be coincidental. It gave a clear recommendation that—astonishingly—fits extremely well with the amendment I am now proposing:

“We recommend that a right to discharge for under-18s be established, and that all those recruited under the age of 18 be told of this right.”

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman has referred several times to under-18s having a right to leave. I had the privilege of serving on the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee and we took some evidence on this matter, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman would accept that they do currently have a right to leave, but that the length of notice is different from that which he proposes.

Dr Huppert: They do not have the right to leave before they turn 18. After the first six months, a 17-year-old, or a 16-year-old even, does not have the right to leave. In the case of the Army, they are there for, I believe, six years after they pass that first six months. In practice, that is not necessarily enforced, but that is not the same as their having a right.

Thomas Docherty: I have heard the argument about five or six years before. When personnel turn 18, they have an absolute right to choose to leave at that point. I accept that, perhaps, that is not as well publicised as it might be, but this talk of their being in for five or six years is not entirely accurate.

Dr Huppert: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point, but I think he would agree that somebody who joins on their 16th or 17th birthday currently has no right to leave, although in practice they might be allowed to, which is a slightly different issue.

Why is this an issue for under-18s? We have a whole lot of rules for under-18s: we do not allow them to vote—although many of us think that we should because they are adult enough to do that—we do not allow them to have credit cards or to enter into other legal decisions because they are not treated as adults who are able to commit themselves for such a long time; and they cannot bind themselves to a credit agreement to pay a certain sum of money the next month, except in very exceptional circumstances. They can, however, commit themselves to an extended period in the armed forces.

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It is quite clear that in many cases they are allowed to leave, even though they do not have that right. It is hard to be sure, however, whether that covers every case of somebody under 18 who wishes to leave. We would not know if they were too scared to ask their commanding officer or if some other social pressures made it hard. We know that there are cases of bullying in the armed forces and although I am sure we all abhor the fact that that goes on, there are a number of such cases and it is hard to know what would happen then.

The situation is unclear, so we proposed an amendment to make it absolutely clear what was and was not allowed. I am grateful to the Minister for responding to the report produced by the Select Committee on the Bill after the amendment was tabled and after a number of discussions, parliamentary questions and so on. He has made a welcome announcement, stating that

“for those under the age of 18, the ability to be discharged will in future be a right up to the age of 18, subject to an appropriate period of consideration or cooling off.”—[Official Report, 19 May 2011; Vol. 528, c. 26WS.]

I want to place on record my thanks to the Minister for taking that step, which is very welcome to a number of the people involved. I have a few specific questions, however, and I hope that he will be able to clarify the situation for me.

First, what is this period of consideration or cooling off and roughly how long would it last? My amendment allowed 14 days’ notice; I suspect he has a different figure in mind and it would be helpful to know what it is. The second part of the JCHR’s report and of the amendment state that any person enlisting under the age of 18 should be informed of their right and I hope the Minister would agree that it would ideal for them to be told that they have it, even though he would hope that many of them would not avail themselves of it. Finally, will he update the Committee on the process as it stands? Has he given instructions that the rule should apply as of now and will people be told that there is this right? He talks about requiring secondary legislation to make such a provision, which I look forward to seeing, but when will such an instrument be laid before the House?

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I want, briefly, to support new clause 7 and I also want to express my thanks to the Minister for his statement about improving the system. He seems somewhat surprised to get unanimous support—

Mr Robathan: It is amazing.

John McDonnell: I can assure him that it will not last for long.

I also want to argue in favour of new clause 11. My new clause, like new clause 7, is based on the briefings that we have received from the Quakers and I pay tribute to them for the work they have done in raising the issues about the recruitment of under-18s into the military. I also want to thank Michael Bartlet for the work he has done in raising the profile of the issue over some time.

My new clause would simply end the recruitment of anybody under the age of 18, because I find it extraordinary that when it comes to military recruitment or their engagement in the military, we do not treat under-18s as

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minors. Legally, that is what they are. I therefore find it extraordinary that we allow children to sign up to involvement in the military, legally—currently—making a commitment for six years. They are minors, signing up to a process that could put them in harm’s way and which certainly puts them under a disciplinary regime and environment that has made a number of them vulnerable over the years.

For the record, I understand that there are currently 580 16-year-olds and 1,970 17-year-olds serving in the British armed forces. I have been surprised to learn from parliamentary answers and MOD information that between April 2007 and April 2010, three 17-year-old service personnel were deployed to Afghanistan and two to Iraq. I have also been concerned to learn, in answer to a parliamentary question, that on 1 December 2010, there were five under-18s serving sentences at the military corrective training centre at Colchester for having gone absent without leave.

8.45 pm

We have had various debates in the Chamber condemning the practice in developing countries of recruiting child soldiers, but that is what we are doing—we are recruiting children into the military services. As the MOD information shows, we are not only sending them to war zones but subjecting them to military discipline that involves their detention in a corrective establishment. I just do not find that acceptable and I do not think it is a practice to which this country should adhere. The Minister might correct me on this, but I understand that we are now the only European country that recruits under-18s to the armed forces. I would welcome a rethink from the Government about the whole practice of recruiting children into the military and the possibility of phasing it out. I understand that the Minister might not want to accept the amendment this evening and I will not press it, but I would welcome consideration from the Government about phasing out the recruitment of children to the military.

We have a duty to protect young people, which sometimes involves protecting them against decisions that they make at an age at which, in other circumstances, we would not consider it appropriate for them to make the sort of commitment that is involved or to put themselves in situations that might lead to their being in harm’s way or to their lives being at risk.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I thought this might be a good opportunity to point out that new clause 7 would alleviate some of the difficulties mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. With extensions to education and training in 2013 and 2015 up to the ages of 17 and 18, more young people might find themselves momentarily attracted to joining the forces. They can get through the first part but, as the hon. Gentleman’s point about the young people who have gone absent without leave shows, they sometimes experience a crisis in their lives. New clause 7 would alleviate the problem.

John McDonnell: I think that new clause 7 would bring an immense improvement to current practices and I support it, but I object in principle to the recruitment of children into the military. For 13 years, I was the part-time house father of a children’s home when they were run as family units and one could pursue one’s

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own career while also operating as the father of a family group. In that time we dealt with a large number of young people from extremely disturbed backgrounds and prepared them for fostering into ordinary homes. A number of those who came to us were extremely vulnerable and I remember many of them going into military service at a very young age, almost because they were looking for the security of an institution because they had, frankly, been institutionalised as a result of their lives in care. At the time, I thought those young people were extremely vulnerable and were making the wrong decision. At the age of 16, people are too young to make that major decision to go into the armed forces and put themselves under a disciplinary regime that can result, as it has done, in a number of youngsters being put in corrective establishments. As I have said, some others have been sent to war zones. I would welcome a careful rethink from the Government about this issue and I hope that they will consider coming back with proposals to accept the measures in new clause 7 and to follow other European countries in phasing out the recruitment of children into the Army.

Mr Robathan: I am grateful to the hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for their compliments. I am not used to that and, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, I do not expect it to continue. Never mind. We enjoy these things while they happen.

I was interested in some of the comments that were made because I think the hon. Member for Cambridge is quite keen on reducing the voting age to 16, which seems not entirely at one with some of the things that were said during the debate. However, I shall not dwell on that.

Young people who join the armed services at the ages of 16 and 17 are a valued source of manpower—it is particularly man power in the Army—but we take the duty of care seriously too. When the subject was first raised with me, I had not appreciated that there was what we might describe as a certain element of confusion over whether people could leave at the age of 18. The situation is changing, but currently if a young man—they are typically young men—approaching his 18th birthday said that he was unhappy, he would be dubbed an unhappy minor and in practice he would be allowed to go after a cooling-off period. However, the situation is slightly confused.

People who go absent without leave do not necessarily do so because they want to leave the armed forces. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington might say that that is ridiculous, but sometimes people go AWOL because they have done something wrong and they do not want to face the music. There can be other reasons.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Simon Reevell) has spoken to me about the situation too and, after listening to people and to the debate in the Select Committee, it seems to me that it is important to clarify the position. As the hon. Member for Cambridge said, people will have a right to leave up to the age of 18. However, I am not saying that we want them to leave, so we shall give them a cooling-off period. It is likely to be longer than two weeks. It is a genuine change and will be enacted in statute, because it is right that people

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understand that they do not have to beg to leave; they have the right to leave, but we shall make every effort to dissuade good young people from leaving if we wish to retain them.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the time scale. People are currently informed of their rights and that will continue. The answer to his question is the old parliamentary expression, “We expect secondary legislation soon.” I hope it will be before the recess, but it may not be. I do not want to get it wrong.

I turn to people who are less satisfied, if I can put it that way, such as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. We want good young people to join the armed forces and we get a pretty high quality of recruit these days, as I think the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) would agree. Prohibiting the enlistment of people under the age of 18 would be to the detriment of the armed forces. We take real pride in the fact that the armed forces provide challenging and constructive education, training and employment opportunities for young people.

Not all the young people who join the armed forces come from happy backgrounds. The hon. Gentleman talked about young people leaving care and joining the armed forces because they saw it as a way out of their difficult circumstances. It is important to bear that in mind.

I shall digress if I may, although it is absolutely germane to the discussion. Probably—notwithstanding other claims—the most decorated man in the British Army at the moment has two conspicuous gallantry medals, a George medal and an MBE. He is now a lieutenant-colonel. When I met him last year, he told me that he spent the night before he joined the Army, aged 17, in a police cell in Bradford. He will not mind my saying this because he told me quite openly—[ Interruption. ] I know; being in Bradford is a bit much—[ Laughter. ] Oh God, I’ve let myself in for a few questions now. Humour never translates on to the pages of Hansard.

That man decided that the future for him was either one that did not look very good and might involve further visits to prison and police cells, or that he would join the Army. He joined the Army at the age of 17 and he has not just made an outstanding career for somebody without great educational qualifications but, if I may say so, has made himself a role model for many people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Mr Kevan Jones: Does the Minister agree that although there are such individuals, there are also many who go, for example, through the Harrogate college and gain qualifications, or through the excellent Welbeck college where they do A-levels? Not all are from the kind of background that he describes, although I accept that some are. Those colleges give them life chances and educational opportunities that they might not get elsewhere.

Mr Robathan: The hon. Gentleman is right. I could not agree more. We get some very high-quality people—I presented the prizes at Welbeck two weeks ago, and there is also the apprentice college, Harrogate.

Tessa Munt: I could not agree more that young people should be in college or in education of one sort or another. If that is attached to a military establishment, that is fantastic. Will the Minister confirm, however,

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that three 17-year-old service personnel were deployed to Afghanistan and two to Iraq between April 2007 and April 2010? I know that that is not very many young people, but the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), who is no longer in his place, implied that in Committee he had heard evidence that that did not happen. I may be incorrect. Can the Minister clarify the position?

Mr Robathan: I think the hon. Lady has in her hand a parliamentary answer that I gave her on exactly this issue. Those cases occurred under the previous Government and it was a mistake in each case. Funnily enough, the young men involved wanted to go on operations. A mistake was made, out of 24,000 reservists, as we have just heard, deployed on operations Telic and Herrick. Thousands are deployed each year and I am afraid that mistakes are made. If memory serves me right without having the answer in front of me, I think that two of the individuals mentioned were within a few days of their 18th birthday, and one was found out and sent back. We try to rectify mistakes when they are made, but there are a large number of people and if they do not own up to their age, that can be a problem. We do not intend that that should happen and we will pursue the matter to make sure that it does not.

John McDonnell: So that we get absolute clarity, it is the unanimous view of the Committee, therefore, that no minor should be taken to a war zone. Let us get that on the record.

Mr Robathan: That has been policy since before I joined the armed forces, which I am afraid to say was in 1970. [Interruption.] No, not 1870. It was 1970.

I can assure the Committee that we recognise the need for special care in recruiting and training under-18s. There are currently no plans to revisit the Government’s recruitment policy for under-18s, which is fully compliant with the optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict in the United Nations convention on the rights of the child.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister may have been about to answer my question. What action has been taken since the UNCRC 2008 report, which asked the Government to look again at their proactive policy of recruiting under-18s? [Interruption.]

Mr Robathan: I hear from a sedentary position the suggestion that perhaps the previous Government did not take any great action on that. We do not intend to revisit our policy on the matter. However, it is important to say that all service in the armed forces is voluntary, unlike in many other armies around the world. Furthermore, no person under the age of 18, because such a person is deemed a minor, can join the armed forces unless the application is accompanied by the formal written consent of a parent or guardian. As I have just said, our defence policy is that no such service personnel are knowingly deployed on any operation outside the UK that could result in their becoming engaged in hostilities. We take very seriously the duty of care of all recruits, particularly those aged under 18, who, inevitably, can be more vulnerable than some older people. This is not

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a partisan position, because we have inherited this from the last Government and it has run through several Governments.

To this end, parents or guardians of all younger personnel, as well as the applicants themselves, are given comprehensive written and face-to-face guidance on the terms and conditions of service and the right to discharge during the selection process, and will be when it changes. This occurs at various times before the parent or guardian provides formal written consent for the child to enter service.

In the light of that and our clear determination to give good careers to young people under the age of 18, be it for three or 30 years, I hope that the hon. Member for Cambridge will withdraw the motion.

9 pm

Dr Huppert: I thank the Minister for answering all my questions. My only reservation is that I hope that the time period for cooling off will not be too much longer than two weeks. Sixteen days would be absolutely fine. I look forward to seeing what the Minister says.

I also thank the Minister for his comments about adulthood at 16. I look forward to his joining our campaign to get votes at 16. That is a welcome step. He shakes his head, but I assume he really means to be supportive. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 15

Defence statistics

‘(1) The Secretary of State for Defence shall publish annual statistics on—

(a) defence spending by each Government Office Region by—

(i) equipment expenditure;

(ii) non-equipment expenditure;

(iii) service personnel costs;

(iv) civilian personnel costs; and

(b) defence spending in each local authority area by—

(i) equipment expenditure;

(ii) non-equipment expenditure;

(iii) service personnel costs;

(iv) civilian personnel costs.

(2) The Secretary of State for Defence shall publish annual estimates of national and regional employment dependent on MoD expenditure and defence exports.’.—(Angus Robertson.)

Brought up, and read the First time .

Angus Robertson: I beg to move, that the clause be read a Second time.