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It is a great pleasure to follow Marion Fellows. May I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Trevelyan on securing this debate and on the manner in which she presented it? Her work does her very great credit, particularly that in relation to the Public Accounts Committee.
I also thank my hon. Friend Mr Gray for giving us a wonderful plug and for promoting my book, which is available from all good booksellers. In a similar spirit, may I thank him for all his hard work on the armed forces parliamentary scheme—he has done a great job rejuvenating it and giving it a new lease of life—and for his work as chair of the all-party group for armed forces?
It seems like the covenant has been around for a long time, because, semantically, it has biblical or mid-17th century connotations, but the truth is that it was really only invented in 2000 in a staff paper. In 2007, the then Leader of the Opposition decided that it would be a good idea to create a Military Covenant Commission and appointed Frederick Forsyth as its chairman. People such as Simon Weston served with great distinction on that commission. It informed the thinking of the then Opposition and subsequent Government, and resulted in the inclusion of the military covenant in the Armed Forces Act 2011. That pretty much brings us to where we are today.
This report contains some great news. I give credit to the Government for their hard work and commitment, and I particularly thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Minister, who approaches this work with dedication and enthusiasm. There are a lot of positive things in the report. I was particularly taken by the fact that 73,000 pupils benefit from the pupil premium, which I feel strongly about as many of my young constituents benefit from it. Some 9,000 personnel are accessing the forces Help to Buy scheme, so that is having a real impact on people. The innovation is entirely compatible with the modern way of living for young people and has much to commend it, notwithstanding the points raised, quite rightly, by my hon. Friend Sir Julian Brazier about the future accommodation model. I share many of those concerns. I could see that the Minister was listening attentively, and I am sure that he will go away and reflect on my hon. Friend’s insightful remarks.
Having been ever so nice about the Government, I would just like to reduce my diminishing prospects of preferment by pointing out that we have recently had some fairly bad news about the recruitment and retention figures for regulars and reserves. I am particularly worried about the Army. The figures are really very bad. Of all the surveys we do, this one matters most. People are not daft. They pick up on what is going on around them and vote with their feet. We are at a time of reasonably good, robust employment and people have other options, so we have to work twice as hard as ever to keep people and, much more importantly, to retain them.