The Armed Forces Bill is something of a whirlwind, and all on the ad-hoc Bill Committee will have learned so much over the past couple of months, as the Chair—James Sunderland—the Clerks and the digital support staff, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for enabling the hybrid Committee to function, will know. It would be remiss of me not to congratulate Leo Docherty on his appointment to the Front Bench—Dochertys seem to get everywhere.
It should not come as a surprise to me, I suppose, after a good few years on the Defence Committee, but the armed forces have come on in so many ways in recent years in how they seek to recruit and retain personnel, for which they should be commended. It should also be said that all who were on the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill were resolved to ensure the process continues.
However, while there was much for us to be positive about and agree on, as the Chair of the Committee has stated, I cannot help but feel that we are at a crucial inflexion point in the way the armed forces are perceived. The more I think about those of us in the Opposition who sought to make amendments to bring the armed forces closer to the society they seek to protect, the more I feel the Government favoured measures that keep them remote, discrete and unempowered. I and my hon. Friend Carol Monaghan tabled common-sense amendments on a representative body, gender-neutral language and bringing the age of recruitment in line with that of our NATO allies. We supported other amendments on housing and on terms and conditions, and never really understood why the Government could not.
We use the language of heroes so often to describe those in the armed forces that sometimes we forget that almost all of them just want the simple pleasures of good pay, conditions and terms of service, or at least certainty, and certainly nothing worse than those of their fellow public servants in the NHS or a police force. Let me thank my fellow Committee members for their work, and the Chair and the Clerks for, over the last couple of months, writing this report—and here’s to more scrutiny of the work of the MOD on Third Reading.