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Draft Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2022

Debated on Tuesday 6 September 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: †Peter Dowd

† Abrahams, Debbie (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)

† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)

† Aiken, Nickie (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)

† Aldous, Peter (Waveney) (Con)

† Baker, Duncan (North Norfolk) (Con)

† Crabb, Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)

Cryer, John (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)

† Docherty, Leo (Minister for Defence People and Veterans)

† Firth, Anna (Southend West) (Con)

† Goodwill, Sir Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)

† Jones, Gerald (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)

† Levy, Ian (Blyth Valley) (Con)

McDonnell, John (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)

† Monaghan, Carol (Glasgow North West) (SNP)

† Pollard, Luke (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)

Sheerman, Mr Barry (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)

† Webb, Suzanne (Stourbridge) (Con)

Guy Mathers, Ian Cruse, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 6 September 2022

[Peter Dowd in the Chair]

Draft Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2022

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Dowd, and I am honoured to be here this morning.

As the Committee knows, we have an essential piece of parliamentary business to conduct this morning as this is our annual consideration of the legislation governing the armed forces, the Armed Forces Act 2006. The purpose of the order is to continue in force that Act for a further a year, so that it will remain in force until the end of 14 December 2023. Colleagues may know that that has been a constitutional requirement since the Bill of Rights in 1689, reflecting the fact that a standing Army, and now by extension the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, may not be maintained without the consent of Parliament. Every five years renewal is by Act of Parliament—an Armed Forces Act—and the most recent was in 2021. I am sure that colleagues will have fond memories of that Act; I know that I certainly do. There must be another Act before the end of 2026. Between each five-yearly Act annual renewal is by Order in Council, such as the one before the Committee today.

We need to keep the 2006 Act in force because, as I remind colleagues, service personnel have no contract of employment, and thereby no duty as employees. Instead, service personnel owe a duty of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen and an obligation to obey lawful commands. That duty is enforced through the 2006 Act, which contains the provisions for the maintenance of the armed forces, including the systems of command, justice and discipline. If the 2006 Act were not to be renewed by this Order in Council before the end of 14 December 2022, it would expire. Consequently, the legislation that governs the armed forces and the provisions necessary for their maintenance as disciplined bodies would cease to exist. That would leave courts martial and commanding officers powerless to punish transgressors for criminal conduct or disciplinary matters. Therefore the continuation of the 2006 Act is essential for the maintenance of discipline, whether the service personnel are serving at home or abroad.

I remind colleagues that our consent today is an opportunity for us publicly to record our deep gratitude to those who serve. Approving the continuation order serves as an acknowledgement by the House of the unstinting courage and great professionalism that our brave servicemen and women repeatedly exhibit in their duties as defenders of our nation’s security and sovereignty, and also defenders of the international rules-based system, which is being so aggressively challenged right now.

Without further ado, I hope that hon. Members will support and approve the draft continuation order, which will provide the sound legal basis for our armed forces to continue to afford us their protection.

It is good to see you in the Chair again, Mr Dowd. On what could be the Minister’s last appearance in a statutory instrument debate I feel somewhat cheated on behalf of the Committee that his remarks were so brief. We wanted to hear more from him, but fear not, I have plenty of words to share.

We are considering an important piece of legislation, because it is an opportunity to demonstrate on behalf of all political parties in the House that we back our armed forces. Labour backs our armed forces. They embody the very best of Britain from deployments abroad in response to the invasion of Ukraine to deployments at home, especially during the covid pandemic. Our armed forces are therefore an essential part of our national defence, our national resilience and our NATO obligations to our allies. We are all proud of how our servicemen and women demonstrate the finest of British values, at home and abroad, and it is right that we give them another year to do so, with the continuation of the Armed Forces Act 2006.

We have a real responsibility to reflect on the service of our armed forces, the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to guarantee our safety and that of our friends and allies. We should be incredibly grateful for their continued service. That is why military personnel must continue to be at the heart of our defence plans. It is not just about the equipment; it is about the people who serve, both those in uniform and the civilians who support our armed forces.

Labour’s support for our armed forces is unshakeable. Indeed, we are here because the last Labour Government passed the Armed Forces Act 2006, and we will of course support this draft order so that the provisions of that Act can remain in force. However, while expressing Labour’s pride in our armed forces, I must draw the Committee’s attention to some issues and ask the Minister to provide an update. It is the moral imperative of any Government to keep our country safe from hostile threats and to protect our citizens. If we have learned anything from the past year, it is that the increasing threat posed by Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine means that we need to solidify our nation’s defences. The withdrawal from Afghanistan also shows that our commitments to the people we support around the world must be long-lasting.

Regrettably, after the past 12 years of government, some of our armed forces are in a much weakened state than we would all like them to be. At a time of increased tension and threats to our country, now is not the time to cut our armed forces. Indeed, were the Minister to ask each Conservative Member present whether now is the time to make such cuts, I suspect that they would agree with what I am about to say, so I encourage him to look at their nodding faces every now and then.

We must not continue the cuts to our armed forces. Reductions over the past 12 years have meant that our Army is now the smallest it has been in 300 years. The Minister and his colleagues do a good job, and Labour acknowledges the defence leadership over the past six months. I hope that the new Prime Minister keeps the Defence Secretary and his team in place so that that work can continue. However, I want Ministers to reflect on some of the changes that are necessary to ensure that our armed forces are as capable as possible.

I join in with the hon. Gentleman’s admiration for our armed forces. Indeed, the Minister himself served with distinction before coming to this place. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should not fall into the trap of just looking at the armed forces headcount? For example, a new tank with a three-man crew can be just as effective despite having fewer people in it. We should look at capability rather than just at the straightforward headcount, which may fall at the same time as we increase our ability to hit the enemy where they fear it most.

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention, because it allows me to talk about Government cuts to our tanks. I recognise what he is saying: this is not just about the size of our armed forces, but the capability as well. However, when cuts are made to both capability and size, we must challenge whether decisions about the size, strength and structure of our armed forces are the right ones. I am deliberately trying to make my points as non-partisan as possible, because I want the Minister to reflect on the legitimate concerns about the structure and size of our armed forces that are shared by both sides of the House.

General Sir Patrick Sanders, the head of the Army, said the UK must

“forge an Army capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia in battle”,

but the Government continue to push ahead with a planned cut of 10,000 troops by 2025. It is a significant worry that, during this period of elevated threat against our country and our friends, Ministry of Defence statistics published this month reveal that the strength of our armed forces has fallen by 2,631 personnel in the past year alone. I want the Minister to look again at the figures and to check that our military has the necessary size and strength. The best way of doing that is to halt the cuts now.

It is right that our regular forces get much of the attention in this debate, but the Government also plan to cut our reserves by 10%. These are the civilians who undertake another job, but have the ability to be called up. Indeed, the armed forces are using reserves much more as part of regular operations. The interoperability between reserve and regular forces is welcome, and it is good that those who sign up to the reserves have experience and can seamlessly integrate into regular units when required. However, if we are to continue with cuts to regular forces, cutting our reserves at the same time does not seem the best of plans. Will the Minister set out whether it is still his Government’s plan to cut reserve forces by 10%, and what impact that will have on operations?

As a Devonport MP, let me say that cuts are not confined to the Army. The Royal Navy has seen cuts too. I fought against the sale of HMS Ocean to Brazil without replacement, and I led efforts to see off plans to scrap the Albion class amphibious assault ships. HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark will now remain in service until the early 2030s, and that is a good thing, but as yet we have no plans set out for how they will be replaced. Will they be replaced on a like-for-like basis with large, amphibious ships with command and control centres as part of them? Or, with the development and evolution of the new royal marine strategy—which is good and welcome—will they be replaced by greater use of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service Bay class in its amphibious capability? Could it be new, multi-role smaller ships or souped-up Point class ships, for instance? I would be grateful if the Minister could set out the direction of travel.

As the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby set out, it is not only a question of the shape, but the capabilities. We have one of the finest navies in the world but it is very small, and orders for many of the high-end ships that were originally planned— the 13 Type 26 frigates for instance—have now been slimmed down. We are seeing fewer high-end ships and they are less capable in a military sense, but there are more hulls in the water. There is a balance between more hulls and high-end capability that needs to be achieved, and with the increasing development of autonomy in the maritime space there is an opportunity to look afresh at some of those areas. I would be grateful if the Minister could set out what he expects to happen with our amphibious capabilities.

Turning to Ukraine, the ongoing aggression inflicted by Vladimir Putin’s regime on the world stage is surely paramount among the threats facing our country. It is vital that we, as politicians but also as people in the public eye, do not become normalised to the situation in Ukraine. The war is entering a critical new phase, where the direct threat posed by Putin’s Russia does not stop at Ukraine’s borders. International support cannot falter at a time when we know Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is expected to continue in the long run. We must be strong in our unwavering support for Ukraine and in doing so, we must better protect ourselves and our NATO allies. Labour’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable, and I place that firmly on the record again today.

That turns me to the integrated review because our armed forces operate under the strategy set out in it. Labour has long argued that we need to reboot our defence plans and review our defence spending. Until recently, Ministers have opposed those plans. That was until the new Prime Minister said that it was time to reboot defence plans and review defence spending. I am glad that we have seen a change in approach from Main Building, but it would be useful if the Minister could set out what he expects that to mean.

Until a new defence review is published, the current defence review continues, and that sees a reduction in the headcount of our Army and cuts to our reserve forces. If the new defence review is to say that now is not the time to cut our forces—as I suspect it will—does it not seem prudent to pause further reductions in our armed forces so we do not lose expertise, headcount and experience, before we seek to re-establish that at greater cost of training and recruitment?

A debate on our armed forces so quickly after the summer recess also allows Members a chance to ask the Minister for updates on some live defence issues that affect those forces. I would be grateful if the Committee bears with me as I ask a few questions. I like to think we are all friends in this room, so as the Minister is among friends, will he give us an update on the status of HMS Prince of Wales? We were all concerned when she broke down, and we would like to know how long she is likely to be out of action, the plans for her recovery and repair, and whether there is a cost and a timeline available at this point.

Having two carriers operate around the world is a real show of strength and ambition for our country. One breaking down is embarrassing, but I want to give credit, especially to the senior Royal Navy officers, who were so clear and transparent through social media about what had happened and what they were doing about it. I think we can agree that has not always been the military way, but it is welcome that we are seeing that transparency, especially in a ship as important as the HMS Prince of Wales. Secondly, there were a number of disturbing reports over the summer from the Royal Air Force, which highlighted unfair and what could be seen as unprofessional practices in some of our most decorated and important squadrons. It was good to see the RAF move swiftly to address those reports, but can the Minister offer an update about what happened, what the rot is that needs rooting out and when Parliament will be updated about the full changes?

Thirdly, I would be grateful if the Minister could set out what the changes in the basing strategy that were announced just before the summer recess mean for our armed forces. For those who were not following it closely, a number of bases throughout the UK had their closure dates delayed quite considerably, including two bases in Plymouth. In nearly all cases, those changes were welcome, not only by the units involved, but by the communities in which those bases are located. However, now that there is a large delay in the closure, could the Minister set out whether it is now the Government’s intention to invest in those bases, especially in the accommodation, to make sure that our armed forces enjoy suitable and safe accommodation when stationed at home? We all need confidence in that, and I would be grateful if the Minister could look at that.

Finally, I come to the Ministry of Defence’s energy bills. We all know that bills are going up, and there has rarely been a military building I have been in that is not really warm.

Indeed. What is the expectation about energy use in the MOD? I suggest to the Minister that now might be a good time for the MOD and the Treasury to get together to look at whether single-year spending cycles are right for investment in the MOD—I do not think they are—and to see whether now is the time for proper green energy investment, especially in the many south-facing MOD-owned roofs on the defence estate, so that we can start offsetting some of the energy use involved in our armed forces. If we were to make the case that every solar panel on our roofs is one less tank that Putin can put into the field, because energy use that draws gas from Russia fuels his regime, that would be a strong signal, and something that could not only save the MOD money, but strategically benefit the country.

The procurement of our armed forces is another area that needs addressing, because it is something that wastes enormous amounts of money that could be better spent. Since 2010, the Government have wasted £15 billion of taxpayers’ money through mismanagement of defence procurement programmes, with £5 billion of this wasted since 2019 when the current Secretary of State for Defence took his post. Defence Ministers have no systematic plans to fix the broken military procurement system, which the Public Accounts Committee describes as,

“broken and repeatedly wasting…money”.

This risks our frontline forces going without the kit and equipment they need to fight, and risks our ability to field full-strength units. There are real questions to be asked about this at the heart of the Government’s incredibly poorly handled Ajax programme. We ask these questions because we want the armed forces to have the best equipment, and for it to be delivered on time with the capabilities that they ordered. However, increasingly with some of those large programmes, the equipment is delivered late and in a poor condition, which, as we have seen with Ajax, could potentially be dangerous to our soldiers through hearing loss, vibration problems and other issues. The UK’s defence industry is incredibly important, and standing next to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney today, who represents a constituency where defence manufacturing is very important, it is worth saying that we want to see this got right, because there are jobs, as well as national security, on the line.

A new threshold is needed for equipment to be sourced inside the UK, requiring proof that defence projects can be built under similar terms in Britain, because far too many of our defence contracts are being sent abroad. The fleet solid support ship is a good example—that entire ship to supply our Royal Navy should be built in Britain using British steel. A fleet solid support ship whose parts are bought from foreign yards and made from foreign steel, only to be assembled in the UK, is not a ship properly built in Britain. That means we are leaking jobs, tax revenues and skills from our shipyards. Ministers should reflect on the procurement process to make sure that all our Royal Navy ships—our Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships—are built in Britain.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about procurement and building the support ships here in the UK. Does he also agree that rather than working on year-to-year budgets, it would be more reasonable to work with much longer defence budgets, maybe covering five to 10 years, so that we could include the economic multipliers he talks about?

The hon. Lady raises a good question about the spending strategy. One reason the Treasury is so reluctant to give the Ministry of Defence a longer running budget is that it has constantly demonstrated its inability to manage those budgets. There is a balance to be struck between longer budgets that enable projects to spend wisely, especially when coming to the end of an accounting period, and processes that ensure grip on total procurement. The hon. Lady sets out a good argument. I know Defence Ministers would like that as well, but their friends in the Treasury might not be so supportive. Such a change would be useful on a cross-party basis to those who have an interest in defence, because annual spending cycles build in waste towards the end of that cycle. We need to look at the current system because it does not drive efficiency in the manner for which we should be asking. Labour would make the Ministry of Defence the first Department subject to its proposed office for value for money’s tough spending regime and commission the National Audit Office to conduct a comprehensive audit of MOD waste to deal with that problem.

In conclusion, Labour backs our armed forces, in opposition as we did in Government, and as we will do again. There has been much cross-party agreement in recent months about our military, our armed forces and Britain’s important place in the world, but it is the job of the Opposition to inquire and scrutinise. There are big improvements still to be made in the culture, efficiency and approach of not only the Ministry of Defence, but sometimes our armed forces as well. I hope the Minister will recognise that I ask these questions from a position of pride in our armed forces. Indeed, I am proud to come from a military family and proud to represent a military city.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, Labour will support the draft order today, but I would be grateful if the Minister provided an update on the issues I have raised.

I intend to be brief. I echo many of the points raised by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport. It is a pleasure to follow him and the Minister, and I reiterate the SNP’s commitment to and support for those who are serving. When we state our support for personnel in uniform and for veterans, we must not forget that there are some issues of concern and it is important that we, as elected representatives, raise them. Indeed, we have spoken about some of them extensively in this place over the past few years.

We are committed to the ongoing delivery of defence, but we have to look more carefully at the experience of, for example, women in the armed forces, a cause that has been taken up so effectively by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton). She is not here, but we all know how much work she has done on that issue and it is good that we are now able to have such conversations, which probably would have been a lot more difficult a few years ago.

We still have an issue with LGBT veterans. I know the Minister has made a commitment to look at that, but there has not been any shift in the outcome for those veterans. I hope the Minister remains in his place in the new Government, and it would be good to have a commitment that those LGBT veterans will see some movement in their situation.

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Glasgow Helping Heroes, a Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association organisation, not in my own constituency but just across the Clyde, right next to the BAE Systems yard that is building our Type 26 frigates as we speak. If hon. Members have not been up to see those frigates, I urge them to do so as they are quite impressive. The organisation raised a number of problems, most of which could be dealt with a small amount of money.

When we reiterate our commitment to the armed forces, we must also maintain our commitment to those retired personnel who have issues. We know they are a minority, but a safety net must be there to deal with them and it should not be up to charities to do that by poking about, trying to get a little bit of funding here and there. They tell me that they have staff dedicated just to trying to get funding to keep their current work going. That is not good enough for those who have served.

I finish by asking about housing, which is an issue that I raise regularly in the Chamber. Housing and accommodation standards, including for families, have not moved on much at all. We still get an awful lot of correspondence about the poor quality that families are expected to put up with. We need a more ambitious programme of housing. We also must look at how personnel who are still serving are able to get on the housing ladder and have their families in their own accommodation. It is not good enough that, after 10 or 20 years’ service, personnel find themselves struggling even to get a council house. I hope that that would have cross-party support. Let us get things right not just for those who serve, but for the families of those who serve. I should declare my usual interest: having been in one of those families, I understand some of the issues that the families experience.

I thank the Minister for his comments this morning, and I reiterate our support for the Armed Forces Act.

I am very grateful for the contributions and remarks from both the Labour and SNP Front-Bench spokespeople. I will address some of the issues in short order.

The Defence Secretary himself made it clear yesterday, during the Ukraine statement, that the size of the Army stands at 79,000. Planned reductions in manpower have not yet kicked in, and of course that is kept constantly under review. It is important to put on record our resolute commitment to capability, not headcount—a point very eloquently made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby. We are committed to increasing defence investment to 3% by 2030. Throughout the consideration of the IR, planning for future force structure has been threat-led. We are all left in absolutely no doubt that that consideration will be taken seriously by the new Prime Minister, as someone who is absolutely resolute about defending our position on the global stage, defending our nation’s interests and investing in our armed forces.

We should also be confident that it is thanks only to the three-year £24 billion uplift by this Government that we are in this robust position. We are getting our house in order. We are focused on making our armed forces more potent than ever before, embracing a whole range of new technology across new domains such as cyber and space. That is why, in essence, the IR was correct in its diagnosis and direction of travel.

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport mentioned amphibious vessels and the discussion about what class might be deployed in the future. I share his interest in that, because I remember the debates around Albion and Bulwark. Of course, I would not dream of stepping on the toes of my colleague the Minister for Defence Procurement, but I am happy to commit that the Minister will write to the hon. Gentleman with an update. That is an issue of extreme strategic and operational importance.

The hon. Gentleman made some sound comments on Ukraine and asked some perfectly valid questions about the IR. As I have mentioned, given what we have seen over the last six weeks in the leadership contest, we can be confident that our new Prime Minister is resolutely committed to maintaining our support for our allies and friends in Ukraine, and to ensuring that we are doing everything we can, whether through lethal aid or training in the United Kingdom, to support our friends there. If there are parts of the integrated review that need to be refreshed in the context of a greater strategic threat from the east, whether it be a purely military threat or the broader energy challenge posed because of the outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, I am sure that that doctrine will be brought into the IR, and that it will be updated if need be. In essence, we are confident, and we should all be confident, that our new Prime Minister will have just as sharp and resolute a focus on defending Ukraine and the international rules-based system as the previous one.

The hon. Gentleman posed some valid questions about the Prince of Wales carrier, which really demonstrates the value of having two aircraft carriers rather than just one. He will know, as we all do, that there is a significant period of repair needed in a dry dock, but I will commit now to the Minister for Defence Procurement writing with an update on that.

The hon. Gentleman also made some valid comments about the Royal Air Force and some of the press coverage regarding the Red Arrows, which has been particularly alarming. I am pleased to report that such issues will, I imagine, be discussed in a forthright manner between the Defence Secretary, the Chief of the Air Staff and other senior members of the Royal Air Force leadership at the RAF board tomorrow. Our approach is one of zero tolerance, and we set this in the context of ensuring there is a culture not only in the Royal Air Force but right across defence that allows women to flourish in all roles, given that all roles are now available to them.

The Minister may be approaching his closing remarks, and I wanted to intervene before he resumes his seat. He referred to the commitment around military intelligence in his remarks on Ukraine. We have seen a resurgence of the cold war. Many have asked me, and so I will ask the Minister in turn, why we were not better prepared and in a better position to foresee the excesses and curtail the behaviour of President Putin?

That is an extremely good question. The Defence Secretary touched on some of those broader issues in his statement on Ukraine yesterday. If we are frank with ourselves and look back to the period in the early 2000s, all western countries were perhaps overly optimistic in their desire to re-engage with Russia. It may be our collective failure, but we will be measured by our agility and our resolve in responding to the Russian threat. That has been central to our doctrine even before the invasion of Ukraine, and we will be measured by the resolve that we now show in responding—not just in a military way, but in terms of our collective ability to counter the energy war that Putin is now waging upon the west.

I want to bring the Minister back to his comments about women in the armed forces. Sadly, I was not at all surprised at the reports we saw a couple of weeks ago about the Red Arrows, and that is a pretty poor reflection of where we are. Especially since we read the report from the hon. Member for Wrexham, there has been an indication of how widespread that is. We know that units will take the lead from commanding officers, and we know that the culture is set by those who lead. What work has been done—not in terms of equality and diversity training, because I know that takes place—in really changing the culture, particularly among officers, because then the personnel will follow?

The hon. Lady makes a good point. It is not just about broad institutional change; it is about ensuring that it is instilled in the leadership training, and that is now being done. For example, all leadership training at Sandhurst instils the absolute necessity of ensuring women can thrive in the workplace into the leadership style. Those who lead have a duty to set the example. This is a cultural shift, and it is encouraging that once the culture changes at the top of the armed forces it can have a rapid multiplier effect. I have been amazed at how fast change does take place. For example, if someone visits an infantry battalion, they will meet young female platoon commanders, which would have been completely unthinkable 20 years ago when I commissioned. More than 50% of those serving in the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery are young women, including the commanding officer, so change can happen very quickly, and that is absolutely right. It is a leadership function, and we are addressing that by ensuring that it is part of the training at the very top.

I will cover off the other points raised by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport. As the Member of Parliament for the home of the British Army in Aldershot, I take the basing strategy personally. Delays in closures and attendant accommodation issues are extremely important for our service personnel. I am pleased to commit the MDP to writing with an update because that is his bailiwick and it is also extremely important.

We have sidestepped the issue of Ajax, which was raised by the Opposition. Have other countries that use the same platform—it was built in Spain before it was assembled in Merthyr Tydfil—had the same problems, and what have their solutions been?

I was going to come to Ajax, but I will cover the points off in sequence. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport made a good point about energy bills. We are striving to be lethal yet green. I know that the permanent secretary is leading a huge amount of work on ways that we can better utilise our estates to capture solar energy and so on. We take that seriously because our energy bill is very significant.

Ajax is, again, an MDP lead, but I will say simply that further updates will come, as we have said all along. However, we will not accept a vehicle that is not fit for purpose. The resolve and integrity of the Defence Secretary and the MDP on that is unquestionable.

The hon. Gentleman made some good points about a multi-year settlement. Of course, we are grateful to have had a multi-year settlement up until 2024, and the £24 billion uplift under the previous Prime Minister.

I will cover off the last few remaining points. The hon. Member for Glasgow North West commended my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham, for whose work I am grateful. We are doing a whole range of work to get after some of those issues, and we will provide updates to colleagues in due course as we move through the autumn.

Lord Etherton’s review of the experience of LGBT veterans is underway. He is a highly credible Member of the other place and a former Master of the Rolls, and he has started the independent review in good order, so the Member for Glasgow North West should look forward to further updates from it.

Yes. I hope it will conclude within the next year.

The hon. Lady mentioned charities. We should put on the record that the available moneys have doubled in the last financial year. All charities should have looked to apply through the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust.

The hon. Lady also made a good point about accommodation. We are confident, and I should put it on the record that we are putting tens of millions of pounds into improving accommodation. We will always strive for improvement, however, because the component of service life—the experience of the families—is what most affects the ability of a service family and a serviceperson to thrive in role and to continue serving. We recruit and employ a soldier, but we retain the family, so the experience of a family, particularly with regard to accommodation—as well as education—is extremely important. We acknowledge how important that is and are putting our money where our mouth is.

I hope that, attendant to that, this debate on the draft continuation order has been useful to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

That the Committee has considered the draft Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order 2022.

Committee rose.