Defence

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 5:59 pm on 18th February 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 5:59 pm, 18th February 2019

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and not to be last, which is my usual position in the batting order. I will keep my remarks reasonably brief—I say particularly to those who have had the joy of sitting through my speeches on Fridays—to ensure that the two Members who are waiting get an opportunity to speak in this debate as well.

This order is welcome. It is a practical part of ensuring our armed forces continue and that their structure, law and governance, particularly the court martial system, continue. It is also symbolic, as it is a reminder that the armed forces serve our country—our nation and our democracy. This is not a country where the military can exert power over the institution of the state; it is one where they defend the nation and the democracy that lies at the heart of this nation. Indeed, many people over the past couple of hundred years have sacrificed their lives in doing so, showing the truth of the expression that freedom is not free. Too many times in our history, our military and armed forces have had to be called upon to make those sacrifices.

We must address how we can ensure those in the military today feel that they wish to be doing their job and to give that service. The Minister rightly said people do not just join the military for the salary package or because they think there might be an opportunity for some foreign travel; they join because they fundamentally have a calling to want to serve this nation. That is the core of why people volunteer to serve in our military. Indeed, it is a fact that many volunteer; there has not been conscription in this country for decades. At least two generations of men have not been conscripted into our forces, yet so many do still want to join, but it is important that we do not just rely on their spirit of service always coming first.

That is particularly relevant to the issue of accommodation. The escalating cost of housing over recent years means we have to be practical about the financial and other packages we offer and also about the lifestyle generally that is offered. Those in Torbay who have served in the military often talk about what life was like when they were commissioned; they would go on tours and their wives—as they would have been at that time—were pretty much expected to follow them. At that time, it was highly unlikely that their wives would have careers of their own, but that is clearly no longer the case, and indeed many spouses will be serving officers themselves with an equal commitment to our nation, given the welcome move to open up all roles in our military to both sexes. It is therefore important that those packages are considered.

The Minister touched on looking at the estate. I grew up in Plymouth, seeing the Royal Citadel there. Ironically, it had more guns facing over the town than the sound. That was because of history: it was built by Charles II and he wanted to remind Plymothians what might happen if they rebelled against him as they had rebelled against his father, holding out for Parliament and thereby denying a crucial port to the royalist forces. It is right that 300 years later we move on to having a more modern military estate. Some of my family grew up in Stonehouse and have memories of the Stonehouse barracks. They might be worthy of history, but 300-year-old barracks with dormitory accommodation are not the sort of place where the most elite soldiers we train should be housed in the 21st century.

We must not, however, turn the military into just another form of employment. While I agree with much of what was said by Martin Docherty-Hughes, I do not think going down the path of this becoming like any other job is what the vast majority of the military would like to see; nor would it be a sensible decision for our nation. Being in the military is a unique role: it brings with it obligations of service but also a huge amount of respect in exchange for taking on board those obligations. It clearly would never be possible to have some form of strike arrangement, and I suspect the hon. Gentleman made that clear in this contributions, but going down the path suggested would be neither useful nor appropriate. Our system has served us well.