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Armed Forces Covenant

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:10 pm on 2nd February 2017.

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Conservative, Canterbury 3:10 pm, 2nd February 2017

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his endorsement. He makes an important additional point.

This is not only about officers being posted around staff jobs. The centres of excellence where we train the next generation for the Army should get the cream of the senior NCOs from all over the Army. Brecon is shortly to have no Army units near it, but of course we have to post people in and out of there. The same goes for all the other phase 2 training schools. It is crucial that the best of the instructors go to RAF Valley, for example, but the nearby housing market is very thin.

The fourth reason is the question of cost and that takes me on to the survey, about which I am sure the Minister will enlighten us. Let me provide some examples of how the wording of the questions and the issue of cost weigh against each other. The first is about housing quality.

The Australians operate a successful system whereby they lease properties in the local housing market. Their bases, unlike ours, are nearly all in major centres of population. They work on the basis that all the risk and all the maintenance is taken on by Defence Housing Australia. Such an arrangement is very expensive, and DHA funds it.

The reason that the majority of people gave for preferring the new system, as it was put to them, was that they thought they would getter better houses. They were reminded in the survey—I have a copy if anyone wants to see it—that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with existing housing. The survey did not tell them that, in future, they will be responsible for all the risk and maintenance if they go away on exercises—as MPs, we all know how bad some private sector landlords are—unless they take on a huge extra cost.

Again, the survey says that we are going to reach out to unmarried families. I am in favour of that, and there is a serious case to be made for it, but how far do we go? If a soldier enters what might be a short-term relationship with a partner with three or four children from a previous relationship, are we really going to give them a gigantic allowance, perhaps twice as much as an RSM or a major with no children? There has to be a limit somewhere, but this is all dangled in the same survey.