I am pleased to follow the shadow Minister, Kevin Brennan. I have constituents who work at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston, at the Defence Science Technology Laboratories in Porton Down and elsewhere, so I have an enormously high regard for those extraordinary public servants who contribute so much to the security of our country. I therefore have some sympathy with new schedule 1.
It is easy for the newspapers to produce graphic headlines such as “Civil service pen-pushers get massive pay-offs”, but I am talking about slightly different people. They are not ordinary people in the sense the shadow Minister was talking about; they are really rather special. They work at the forefront of technology to ensure that the nation remains safe and that our realm remains secure. I know from talking to my constituents that people at the AWE, which has been privatised, are very unhappy indeed. The AWE is a unique and important facility. It is the only place capable of designing and producing the successor to our Trident nuclear missile system, and indeed of maintaining Trident until its successor comes into force. I am told that morale at the AWE is at rock bottom. To remove the last major benefit of working there—pay has been historically low because of the decent benefits—risks the nuclear deterrent, in some people’s opinion.
These people are not the only ones to be affected. A constituent of mine who works at DSTL came to see me at my surgery on Saturday. He is a leading scientist, and he brought with him examples of ceramic armour that he had personally developed for the protection of our troops. I do not know how many Members in the Chamber have been to see any of our defence science laboratories. I represent Farnborough, the home of the former Royal Aircraft Establishment, which is now the headquarters of QinetiQ. I have met some of its employees, who used to work in some pretty shabby conditions—no wall-to-wall carpeting, rubber plants or anything of the sort—although they have rather fine offices now in Farnborough, and I have been struck by the fact that they could get a lot more money in the private sector. When I asked them, “Why do you work here?” they replied, “Because we want to give something back to our country.” Those scientists show an extraordinary sense of patriotism, dedication and loyal commitment to our country; in my view, they contribute disproportionately to the defence of the realm.
My constituent told me on Saturday that for decades he had been
“Paying my taxes…Saving hard…Avoiding debt…Obeying the law” and, of course, “Working hard” to develop these life-saving technologies for members of our armed forces. He went on to say:
“in spite of this…I have received below inflation pay rises since 2004…My pension contributions have doubled…My retirement age has increased from 60 to 67...My redundancy terms &
conditions have been degraded significantly…My pay is now 20% lower than MOD colleagues outside of Dstl”.
He drew my attention to the 2015 review of the MOD’s science and technology capability by Sir Mark Walport, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, who said:
“We understand that staff retention is difficult in the mid-career stage. We were surprised that Dstl are able to retain staff (let alone good staff) given the comparative low-pay offered.”
Conditions have not improved owing to the austerity measures that we have had to take, which I understand, but that did not stop the chief executive of DSTL receiving a 30% remuneration increase. In those circumstances, it is understandable that these people do not feel that they have been treated as well as they should have been. The other point about them is that, as Crown servants and the kind of people they are, they do not go around protesting; they come to our surgeries or write us a private letter. They will not write to the national newspapers or stand outside with a placard, because they just want to get on with their jobs. I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that there is a risk that we may be taking for granted people whose contribution to our national security is, as I said, rather significant.