As my hon. Friend will be aware, pay rates for the armed forces are recommended annually by the independent Armed Forces Pay Review Body. Since 1998, the average increase has been 3.3 per cent.
A number of units within our armed forces seem to be regularly rotated into front-line action, and rightly so—one thinks of the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment. In an earlier answer, my right hon. Friend said that he will focus on better pay and conditions in those particular units to ensure that recruitment stays high. I welcome his commitment to support a 9.2 per cent. increase for the lowest paid members of our armed forces, but what more can we do to ensure that those elements of our forces that regularly rotate on to the front line are rewarded properly?
My hon. Friend will know that there is a tax-free operational allowance, which is £2,240 for six months—in my view, and, I think, in the view of the armed forces, it goes some way to recognising the contribution made on operations. As well as those who get a 9.2 per cent. pay rise, the next band up gets a 6.2 per cent. pay rise as a result of the acceptance of the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body report reflects the fact that there are a number of specific incentives, one of which concerns the retention of marines, to address pinch points that result in retention problems in the armed forces. In the past, such approaches have improved our ability to hold on to those who have the skills that we need, whether or not they were deployed in operational theatres, and that is what we will continue to do.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will take a close personal interest in the fact that next month the Army will have its first pay run under the new joint personnel administration—JPA. He will remember that when the system was rolled out in the RAF and the Navy there were errors in the pay of 6,500 members of the RAF and 10,000 Navy personnel. Will he assure the House that he has taken steps to ensure that such errors will not be repeated in the Army’s pay run next month?
I was aware of the teething problems with the roll-out of JPA to the RAF and Royal Navy. The hon. Gentleman will know that when the system was rolled out to the Royal Navy in October 2006 we were able, as a result of the RAF experience, to anticipate some problems and to respond to others timeously for those affected. I am advised that the programme is on track to go live in the Army from March 2007. He may rest assured that it has put in place a number of contingency plans to deal with any possibilities that may arise.
As my right hon. Friend is aware, more than 20,000 people who are employed by the Ministry of Defence live in Scotland; given an average salary of £20,000, that means that nearly £500 million is being pump-primed into the Scottish economy. Is my figure correct? Would he like to speculate on the security of that investment in Scotland in the short, medium and long-term?
As far as I can see, the Scottish people intend to stay part of the United Kingdom, so my hon. Friend may be reassured that the contribution that is being made and the economic consequences of that contribution to the Scottish economy will continue. Of course, the people of Scotland must take into account—this is why they are so intent on staying in the United Kingdom—the fact that taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom, particularly if it were ruled by those who propose to do so, would mean coming out of NATO. In such circumstances, there would be no need for those who currently serve the British armed forces to serve the armed forces of an independent Scotland.