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Armed Forces Pay

Volume 706: debated on Monday 10 January 2022

May I open by associating myself with your remarks, Mr Speaker, about the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington? We express our deepest sympathy to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and their entire family.

Armed forces pay remains competitive. Indeed, in 2021 approximately 35,000 service personnel earning less than £24,000 received a £250 consolidated pay uplift because, despite the public sector pay freeze, we are mindful of protecting the lowest earners in the armed forces during the public sector pay pause.

May I start by offering my condolences to the family of our hon. Friend, Jack Dromey, and in particular to our colleague, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham? Our thoughts are with her at this time.

Since 2010, many armed forces personnel have experienced a dramatic real-terms decrease in pay, some by as much as 6.5%. With the cost of living increasing dramatically and personnel struggling to stay afloat financially, will the Minister now lift the pay freeze and restore pay to at least the levels of a decade ago, when his party came to power?

When considering armed forces pay, it is very important to look at it in the round. Service personnel benefit from subsidised food and accommodation, a fantastic non-contributory pension, and allowances on top of basic pay. If I may say, it is a little bit rich getting lessons on armed forces pay from the SNP, given that it has hiked tax on service personnel in Scotland to the tune of £580 per person. It is just as well that the Ministry of Defence is making up the difference.

I am very sad about the loss of Jack. I had known him since we both served together—him for the unions, me for the military—in Northern Ireland a long time ago.

Private soldiers, able seamen and aircraftsmen, after six months’ training and in accordance with the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body, get roughly £3,000 to £4,000 less than a policeman who is also trained for about six months. That seems weird and I ask the Minister if he might slightly account for that.

As I said, we have to take note of the fact that service personnel benefit very significantly from subsidised food and accommodation, a non-contributory pension and allowances. Many young soldiers are also taking advantage of the opportunity to get on to the property ladder through the Forces Help to Buy scheme, which has been a great success.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for what you said about Jack Dromey; his loss is felt by all of us across the House.

I take on board what the Minister said about pay below £24,000, but being as tough as it is for all those people, we think that that is inadequate. Moreover, is he aware that there are huge pressures in terms of the retention of more senior staff, particularly in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force? The gap between what they can earn in the private sector and what they currently earn in the Navy and Air Force, and how much their skills are in demand, are really affecting the ability to retain important members of staff.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and that is why we offer some technical bonuses. We are also initiating a strategic review of terms and conditions and reward and incentivisation to ensure that we can compete with the private sector.