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Service Personnel: Retirement Age and Conditions for Service

Volume 737: debated on Monday 11 September 2023

1. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the retirement (a) age and (b) conditions for service personnel. (906293)

The thoughts and prayers of the whole House will be with the Secretary of State and his family during sitting shiva.

It is right that we record here today the anniversary of 9/11, a terrible act that changed our world. Let me also say that the UK is standing with the Kingdom of Morocco; we are engaged on the ground already and stand by to help in any way that we can.

Defence recognises the need to evolve so that we continue to attract and retain the very best. To that end, the MOD commissioned the Haythornthwaite review into armed forces incentivisation, which was published in June. I will respond formally on behalf of the Department in the coming months, but it is supportive of the recommendations. On retirement ages, I have committed to work with officials and the single services to review rigid cut-offs and to consider establishing an assessment framework to be used on a case-by-case basis.

May I associate myself with the earlier remarks of the Minister, whom I thank for his answer? As he is aware, I have already taken an interest and written in about this issue. I have a constituent who came to me recently having spent a good number of years in the armed forces. He is very proud of what he has given to keep our country safe but is concerned that the armed forces, particularly the Army, are losing institutional memory. He feels that the cut-off age of 55 for reservists is too young, certainly for more administrative roles. Will the MOD take that into account in the review and consider allowing reservists to stay longer in those roles?

I am really happy to declare my interest at this point, as I am in my 63rd year and I remain a reservist. I am sympathetic to the points that the hon. Lady makes and we will certainly factor them into our review.

We know that the Defence Secretary is with his close family today, and we in the Opposition extend our deepest condolences.

I also offer the Secretary of State our warmest congratulations. Over the years and in different roles, I have shadowed him and he has shadowed me, and we both know that the first duty of any Government is to keep our country safe. I will always look to work with him on that basis in his new job.

On personnel, levels of satisfaction with service life have plunged a third over the past 13 years. What is the plan to lift those record low levels of military morale?

The right hon. Gentleman paints an overly gloomy picture of life in the armed forces for most people. It is a rewarding career and they take with them the skills that they need into civilian life and prosper. However, we are aware of our need to compete in the workplace in the years ahead and, to that end, we have commissioned Rick Haythornthwaite’s review, which we broadly agree with and will respond to very soon.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Let me also associate SNP Members with the words of the Minister for the Secretary of State at this sad time. We also think of Morocco and all those New Yorkers who are remembering today.

We know that the cost of living crisis is affecting us all equally. The Minister has said some fine words today, but we know that for his party, there is often an inverse relationship between rhetoric and action with regard to our personnel. Will the Minister tell the House and members of the armed forces what his Government will do to remedy the shameful reality of armed forces personnel being given the lowest pay rise among public servants—a paltry 5%?

I think the hon. Gentleman may be in error: the lowest paid members of our armed forces were awarded 9.7% by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, a recommendation that we accepted in full. Seniors got 5.8% and those of two-star rank and above got 5.5%. That will give the best pay award to the least well paid in our armed forces.

I disagree on the numbers. Let us talk about the rhetoric from the right hon. Gentleman—unless his Government are willing to deal with pay and housing conditions for the armed forces properly. As the armed forces personnel leave the forces for better-paid jobs, could it not be time to consider the reason that the police were able to secure an almost 50% higher pay rise than our other uniformed public servants? Was it because they have a statutory body to represent them in dealing with the Government, and why do his Government not support that action?

The hon. Gentleman has ignored what I have been saying. He also did not make reference to the freezing of charges for accommodation and food, wraparound childcare and a whole raft of measures that we have introduced to help with the cost of living crisis.