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Armed Forces Pay

Part of Opposition Day - [4TH Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:18 pm on 1st November 2017.

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Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View 3:18 pm, 1st November 2017

It may be worth the hon. Gentleman putting that debate on our offer to our veterans and service personnel to the court of public opinion. The time between 2003 and 2015 saw the biggest explosion of military charities this country has ever seen because of the lack of provision that he presided over. It would be a good thing to put that into the public domain and to see whether his argument bears out the facts.

It is important that this debate is grounded in fact. This should not be a partisan issue. We should not be talking about what Labour did or what the Conservative Government did. There are areas—[Interruption.] I have to talk about it, because of the fiction coming from the Opposition. We need to work harder on some serious elements of defence—mental health, veterans’ care, what we want our armed forces to stand for, and, crucially, what we do not want from our armed forces as we move forward to the period post-Brexit—but we must ground this debate in credibility and reality.

Yes, when it comes to pay everybody would like to be paid more. I could not find a single serviceman or servicewoman in the UK armed forces today who would not like more money, but it would be disingenuous in the extreme if I were to stand here and say that that is the single blanket issue that drives down recruitment and reduces our ability to retain skilled men and women, or to stand here and say that a career in the armed forces is not worth it or completely constrained by appalling terms and conditions. That is not the case.

I want to address what is one of the most frustrating things about this place. We have a world-class military. Of all the things I can be accused of, of which there are many, being a Government lackey on defence is not one of them. If Members look at my record on the Iraq Historic Allegations Team and defence spending, or have a brief conversation with the Minister for the Armed Forces, who recoils at the very mention of my name, they will know that I am not a defence lackey. On our capability, yes, we had more ships in the Falklands and more tanks and so on, but in the Falklands a lot of the guns and the ships did not work. The type 26 frigate is one of the world’s most capable combat ships. Members can shake their heads and say, “Well, it doesn’t employ millions of people and the steel did not come from exactly where I wanted it to,” but we have a world-class military. It is therefore extremely disingenuous to the people of this country to constantly use this as a political football between the Labour party and the Conservative party over who is doing better on defence. We have deep challenges, but I gently suggest that pay is not one of them.