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Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill [HL]

Volume 785: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2017


Clause 1: Regular forces: part-time service and geographic restrictions

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, leave out from beginning to “is” in line 3 and insert “The Armed Forces Act 2006”

My Lords, Amendments 1, 2, 4 and 10 will, if agreed, mean that regulations made necessary by the passing of this Bill will be subject to the affirmative procedure. It was a point well debated in Committee, and I do not need to rehearse those arguments again at length. It is worth pointing out, however, that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, following its consideration of the Bill, stated:

“The Bill will confer novel and broad powers on the Defence Council to make provision for part-time service … These powers are conferred without any detailed provisions on the face of the Bill limiting or restricting how the powers are exercised. In the circumstances we consider that the affirmative procedure should apply, and that this is so despite the fact regulations under section 329 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 are generally subject to the negative procedure”.

I believe that there is agreement across the House that the Government should heed the committee’s recommendation. I thank the Minister for his willingness to engage in discussions, both in Committee and outside, on this matter and for his undertaking that the Government are listening to the comments that are being made.

This Bill introduces provisions enabling the Defence Council to make regulations regarding part-time working and the new forms of geographically restricted service. The Defence Council will also be able to make regulations setting out the circumstances in which agreements can be varied, suspended or terminated. The provision in the Armed Forces Act 2006 that governs the parliamentary procedure to which regulations are subject is Section 373. At present, any regulations made under Section 329 are subject to the negative procedure. However, our amendments will ensure that any regulations made under the new sections to be inserted by this Bill will be subject to the affirmative procedure. Section 373(3) sets out which regulations made under the 2006 Act are subject to the affirmative procedure, and the amendment inserts reference to regulations under the Bill into that list. The amendments also amend the wording of Clause 3(6) of the Bill to reflect the fact that Clause 1 now amends two sections of the Armed Forces Act 2006 and not just one. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise to speak to the amendments, particularly to Amendment 8 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Jolly. My comments will be very much in line with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Touhig. In Committee, the Minister said:

“I am not in a position today to give any undertakings on the substance of this issue, but I undertake to reflect further on the matter in a constructive way ahead of Report”.—[Official Report, 12/9/17; col. GC 85]

If constructive reflection has occurred, it has not been visible in the form of any government amendment. Could the Minister explain to the House why no government amendment has been forthcoming and, in the absence of that, why noble Lords should not accept either the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, or that of my noble friend Lady Jolly?

My Lords, to answer the noble Baroness, I suspect we are going to find out very shortly.

An essential characteristic of any good parliamentarian is curiosity, so I can understand why many noble Lords would like to debate the first relevant new Defence Council Instructions before they are implemented. However, in the future it may become apparent that it would be appropriate to make a slight amendment to the regulations concerning flexible working in order to make them work better, be fairer to service personnel or for some other desirable reason. Unfortunately, no such amendment is likely to be made unless it is absolutely essential. The reason is that, thanks to these amendments, an affirmative order will be needed and the MoD will simply not bother with it—it is just too much trouble, unless it is absolutely essential.

Why, then, is my noble friend likely to acquiesce to these amendments? The answer is that he will have told his officials that they have only one shot and they must get the regulations right first time. In short, my noble friend probably thinks that no amendments to the regulations will be needed for a long time, so it does not really matter. Unfortunately, these amendments would make the parliamentary scrutiny of Section 329 of the Armed Forces Act entirely inconsistent, as recognised by your Lordships’ DPRRC’s first report. The fact that a power is novel—in other words, innovative and broad—does not necessarily mean that it should attract the affirmative procedure; what really matters is if there was likely to be any difficulty with it.

The Bill and the subsequent regulations under Section 329 provide flexibility for service personnel, and that can only be positive for them as it will enable certain of them to continue to serve when otherwise they would have to consider leaving the services. However, any of these regulations under the Bill will attract the affirmative procedure.

Contrast the flexible working provisions that we are talking about with, for instance, Section 329(2)(d), which I suspect enables Defence Council regulations to impose golden handcuffs on a service person in exchange for attending a desirable course. For instance, if a soldier has completed his minimum term of service, he or she might want to be considered for training as a helicopter pilot. Quite understandably, the MoD would want to prevent that new pilot from leaving for civvy street immediately after qualification—hence the need for the golden handcuffs. But what if the MoD is experiencing a shortage of helicopter pilots? As far as I can see, the Defence Council could retrospectively increase the period for the golden handcuffs. However, these regulations, which could be very tough, are made under the negative procedure.

If we accept these amendments—as I expect we will—not only will we make the parliamentary scrutiny of Section 329 of the Armed Forces Act entirely inconsistent but we will be getting ourselves deep into the weeds. Apparently, the MoD is considering whether two landing platform docks should be taken out of service, while your Lordships want to look at the minutiae of flexible working for a few service personnel. If we can trust Ministers and the Defence Council to make really difficult strategic or operational decisions, sometimes on a very short timescale, I think that we can safely allow them to amend the original flexible working regulations on their own.

My Lords, I said in Committee that the Government would reflect further on the recommendation from your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. That committee’s recommendation is to the same effect as the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and indeed the proposed amendment of the noble Baronesses, Lady Smith and Lady Jolly.

I am grateful to both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their thoughtful contributions to this Bill. I recognise the hesitations of my noble friend Lord Attlee around the affirmative procedure in this context, but the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee rightly highlighted to the House that some of the new Defence Council regulations to be made under this Bill will go beyond matters of pure procedure. We have considered the committee’s recommendation and its reasons for making it, and we have decided on balance that it is right to accept it. I acknowledge the strength of feeling in this House to ensure appropriate scrutiny of those forthcoming regulations.

While the intended effect of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and that of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, is exactly the same, I hope that the noble Baronesses will not be unduly disappointed if on this occasion I agree to accept the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, to the Bill, which I am pleased to do.

My Lords, this has been a very brief but successful debate all round, I think. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for having shared his views with me on a number of occasions. I understand his concerns. I have been in this House just seven years, but one of the striking contrasts I have found with the other place is our total and utter commitment to scrutinise and hold government to account, whether it is on large issues about platforms or issues that the noble Earl may consider to be of a much lesser degree of importance. We will want to continue that. I am grateful for the support, and I am very grateful to the Minister for accepting the amendment.

I pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who chaired the committee that brought forward the recommendation to which the Government have certainly listened. She has done a tremendous job, and we all wish her well and hope that she is back soon.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Amendment 2 agreed.

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Clause 1, page 1, leave out lines 6 and 7 and insert—

“(ha) enabling a person serving with a regular force to take breaks from full-time service subject to prescribed conditions;”, and”

My Lords, Amendment 3 stands in my name and those of my noble and gallant friends Lord Boyce and Lord Walker. At Second Reading and in Committee, the Minister explained that the Armed Forces have been losing—or may lose—individuals of experience with good professional and personal qualities because they face unmanageable conflict between the 24/7/52 commitment to their service and the personal, private demands of a temporary nature in their daily lives. Faced with these difficulties, the individual may, albeit reluctantly, resign and leave their service. Training a replacement—let alone developing experience and expertise in the new recruit—is costly and takes time. So long as operational capability is maintained to provide opportunities for an individual to take breaks in their service, this could be described as “win-win”: the individual is more able to manage pressing private commitments; their valued personal and professional qualities and expertise are not permanently lost to their service; the cost of training a new replacement is avoided; and the pay foregone while individuals are away on their break benefits the defence budget.

The proposals have the backing of today’s senior leadership in the forces. We accept that—it is win-win. Our objection is to describing this novel type of flexible working—and amending the Armed Forces Act 2006—using the term,

“serve … on a part-time basis”.

It can rightly be argued that “part-time” is a useful and honourable form of employment in civilian occupations. But this phrase, and the unavoidable and inevitable categorisation and labelling of service individuals as “part-timers”—as used in civilian settings of weekly hours’ work—is inimical to the concept and ethos of military service.

Everyone who is on full-time service serves the Crown 24/7/52—they are not employees. Surely it is wrong to place individuals who are prized for these qualities, and whom their service wishes to retain, at risk because of the use of this phrase of being classified by some colleagues as lacking full commitment to their service. Moreover, might it not encourage some of these individuals and others to believe that their service is content for them to engage in part-time work in civilian employment as well, knowing that they are protected from any recall apart from a national emergency? Is this what the Minister and the MoD expect and accept? If not, how should we avoid it as an outcome of this approach?

Following Committee, the Minister readily agreed to set up a meeting which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, and I had sought with the Bill team. But there was no meeting of minds. The Minister’s subsequent follow-up letter to me on 29 September—copied to others and put in the Library—said that the phrase “part-time” had been used in previous Armed Forces Acts, so seeking to reassure that the use of the phrase was not unprecedented. He also said that the House could not amend the Long Title, which contains the term “part-time”. Although given in good faith, this weak defence of the use of “part-time” proved to be misleading and inaccurate. When I checked, I could not find the term “part-time” in the Armed Forces Act 2006, or in any of the previous three single-service Acts—apart from one reference. That reference—in the Army Act 1955—is to a definition of “part-time” contained in the National Service Act 1948.

The 1948 definition referred to a serviceman’s seven-year commitment to be a member of a reserve force following immediately after his full-time national service. This was described as “part-time service”—“full-time service” being national service. Incidentally, this section specifically excluded these national servicemen from the provision in that section of the Army Act 1955. This now historic example bears absolutely no relation to the current use of the phrase. Maybe this is not the only previous use of “part-time” in Armed Forces legislation. However, lacking any formal legal definition, and given the changing uses of the words “part-time” over the years, surely it is wrong to use such a phrase to amend primary legislation in what appears—certainly to me—to be a sloppy and questionable way.

The Minister stated as an example of this flexible scheme that the individual might take one or two days a week away from their service duties. But might it be that more days off in a week, but not every week, would better suit the individual’s circumstances while still being acceptable to their service authorities? This amendment therefore concentrates on the idea of taking breaks from full-time service rather than on working weekly on a part-time basis. Surely it would be better, as this amendment proposes, for both the individual and their service to enable breaks from full-time service rather than to serve on a part-time basis. Eligibility, application and other rules and regulations could be set out as already proposed, and conditions prescribed in subordinate legislation.

This approach is positive. It concentrates on what the individual is seeking rather than on the undefined implications of the words “part-time”. These individuals are so valued by their service that they are being singled out to receive special treatment and dispensation from the full-time service obligation of their contemporaries. Our amendment avoids any danger of labelling these prized individuals as statutory part-timers, which might expose them and their service to inappropriate and demoralising treatment by some colleagues or by those who might seek to disparage the good name and full commitment of the Armed Forces. Of course, it can be argued that this should not happen. However, the issue surely is not whether it does but that the risk that it might is not run.

On the issue of the Long Title in Amendment 11, which is in this group, we have taken advice from the clerks. The Companion guidance is that a Long Title may be amended if the content of the Bill is changed during its passage. This verges on simple common sense. For completeness, we have tabled Amendment 11, but its consideration of course will follow only from Amendment 3.

We hope that what I am afraid is the obdurate resistance to the advice and recommendations expressed at Second Reading and in Committee by some experienced individuals will be reconsidered and that the Minister will agree to further discussion on a better-expressed approach and statutory wording to enable the introduction of a worthwhile flexible concept. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig.

I remain to be convinced of the necessity of the Bill, as the Armed Forces are already empowered to allow flexible working. Some might argue that the Bill will allow the Armed Forces to be brought in step with modern working practices, which will be an important improvement to quality of life and hopefully will improve retention. Retention would be markedly improved if the men and women of our services were not profoundly depressed by a defence budget that is totally inadequate to meet the aspirations of SDR 2015, and when our service men and women are seeing major savings measures being contemplated that will impose major savage surgery on present and future equipment capability, and which have already dramatically curtailed training overseas—which, apart from causing us to become an embarrassment in the eyes of our allies, will have a concomitant downward effect on operational capability and morale. This is all on top of the fact that our service men and women are suffering from a number of deeply hurtful efficiency measures in train that are making their quality of life woeful.

Aside from that, I do not envisage that the Bill can be stopped. But if it is to go through, a key to its subsequent success from an Armed Forces perspective would be its attractiveness to the limited number of those—certainly very limited in the case of the Royal Navy—who would be allowed to take time away from their duties.

There is no way that labelling this “part-time” will be remotely attractive. It may be that such an expression is viewed with equanimity, if not honour, in civilian life, but I am astonished that there are those in this House who consider that being in civilian life is the same as serving in the Armed Forces. In the Armed Forces this will be viewed as an unpleasant epithet and will be used as such by the media and others ill-disposed towards us who desire to be insulting. When our allies, especially the United States, which is already deeply concerned about our potential capability cuts, hear that we are to have a part-time Army, Navy and Air Force—which is how it will be characterised—they will think we have lost the plot.

Apart from that, part-time in civilian life does not require a person to be instantly recallable at any time of the day or night, weekday or weekend. Some may think that this provision in the Bill is unlikely to be realised—but what happens if a strategic submarine cannot sail because of a lack of a nuclear propulsion watchkeeper? That is a national emergency.

In other words, to characterise these arrangements as “part-time working” as seen through civilian eyes is to obscure the fact that this will be a temporary arrangement between a service person and their chain of command which can be ended at the wish of either party with notice or terminated without notice in the event of emerging operational imperatives—for example, my nuclear operator analogy.

Also, there are policy limits on how long and on how many occasions through a career a service person may apply to serve under reduced-commitment terms and there will be practical limitations on who may be considered eligible for such arrangements, and when. As I have already said, there will be many limitations in the case of the Navy.

Given these circumstances, resorting to language where one will be called a part-time sailor, soldier or airman will be deemed among those who matter—and I have spoken to a lot of service men and women, rank and file, in the past few weeks—derogatory and belittling of their contribution. The expression is flawed in definitional terms.

Thus, my contention is that this expression—“part-time”—will do nothing to enhance the attractiveness of this sort of flexible working, which has its advantages, as my noble and gallant friend pointed out. In fact it will do quite the opposite. It will be retention negative and will add to the challenges facing the chain of command, who are charged with overseeing a shift in the culture underpinning working patterns on which the success of this initiative rests.

I totally endorse the amendment, and particularly my noble and gallant friend’s words in it, which are a far better definition for people wanting to take breaks.

My Lords, I strongly support this amendment as well. Life in the military world is divided into two distinct types. The first is when folk are deployed on operations, normally in some far-flung place. Working days are often 18 to 20 hours long, sometimes longer. There are no weekends, no bank holidays, no serious recreational time and very little time for individuals to have to themselves. Focus is on the job in hand, you have to be ready to react at a moment’s notice, and the pressure is on you 24 hours a day. There is no way that could be described as part-time and no way that people could be part-timers in that sort of scene.

The second type is what one might call the routine, more normal life in barracks. This is all about training, career development, ceremonial, military aid to the civil power and similar activities, as well as getting a better work-life balance for service folk with their families. This is much more the sort of life that other professions might recognise. In this style of life, breaks from service are entirely possible, entirely sensible and entirely warranted, and, as we have already heard, it happens on the ground as we speak. But, again, “part-time” is not the right way to describe such breaks.

The very word “part-time” implies a long-term arrangement and, for the Regular Forces, carries a stigma that damages the self-esteem of the individual, makes others question an individual’s commitment and, indeed, damages the self-esteem of the institutions that are the services themselves. Moreover, the word “part-time” could be lighted upon and magnified by the media to further exacerbate a notion that we were indeed a part-time set of forces—to the very dismay of our services and particularly our personnel. If they were so to do, we would have only ourselves to blame by enshrining these words in law. Therefore, I very much support the amendment and hope that it will be accepted.

My Lords, I have listened carefully to the case presented by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, for changing the words of the provision. I agreed with everything that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, said, apart from his remarks about the merits of the amendment. I particularly agreed with his comments about morale and funding the Armed Forces.

My first thought is that, if we were in a situation where the Armed Forces were fully funded and recruited, we would probably not be going down this route. However, our current situation gives us the opportunity to give defence HR a good wire-brushing. I strongly agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, that service life is not employment or a job; for me, it is, or was, Her Majesty’s service, which is very different.

If I were the Minister faced with this problem—or, rather, opportunity—my first thought would be to encourage service people who would like some flexibility or stability to go on to the reserve and then make an additional duties commitment. There would have to be some pension considerations and some certainty that the service personnel could get back into regular service, but I do not think that would require primary legislation. During the briefing sessions that the Minister organised, we asked about that, but apparently the Bill route is the optimal solution. Given the well-known difficulties with primary legislation, which we are experiencing now, we can be reasonably confident that this is the best course of action.

The noble and gallant Lord made a very good point about the possible public and service perceptions of part-time Regular Forces. Unfortunately, nothing we can do will stop the media running a story from a negative position. The noble and gallant Lord will also know that it is very hard to get the media to run any good defence news story. If they want to run this particular development negatively, nothing in the drafting of the Bill will prevent that.

I was in a similar position to the Minister when the Opposition Front Bench favoured slightly different drafting for a particular clause in a Bill that I was handling. However, I was in the fortunate position that my officials were able to advise me that I could accept the revised drafting if I wanted to, and of course I did. My noble friend is a much more experienced and, most importantly, much more senior Minister than I was. However, my suspicion is that he is simply unable to change the drafting for legal reasons.

When the noble and gallant Lord comes to decide what to do with his amendment, I think he will be wise to exercise caution. First, I do not expect that he will be carrying that magic slip of paper from the clerk to the Lord Speaker. Secondly, if we make too much of a meal of this Bill, we run the twin risks of, to some extent, deterring the MoD from running a similar small, discrete and desirable Bill and of making the government business managers equally cautious of such a Bill in the future, even if it were one that found favour with noble and gallant Lords.

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment put forward by the noble and gallant Lords, not only for the reasons that they have articulated but very briefly to mention my experience in my former service, the police. I was able to initiate and help champion flexible working in the police service. We used terms such as career breaks, career development breaks and role sharing. We very carefully avoided any notion of part-time, simply because in my old service in the military and maybe in some other uniformed public services, job description generics carry weight beyond just normal civilian meaning. While it may be feared that the noble and gallant Lords and I are being oversensitive, notions of part-time can be seen to dilute notions of operational prowess, commitment, sense of duty and so on. If there is even the risk that, informally, notions of part-time will dilute how colleagues in the military view people taking advantage of flexible working, the term “part-time” should be avoided. If there is some room here for change, I hope the Minister will listen very carefully to the arguments put forward by the noble and gallant Lords. If there is a necessity to test the opinion of the House, I think this is so important that I will support the noble and gallant Lords.

My Lords, I also rise to support the speeches made by the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Craig of Radley, Lord Boyce and Lord Walker. I will not repeat their arguments. It is quite clear from conversations that one has had that the general thrust of the Bill is well supported. The point at issue here is the use of the term “part-time”, and I underline my opposition to its use. I add one further argument for the noble Earl to reflect on. One of the Army’s six core values is selfless commitment. That selfless commitment is not divisible; it cannot be on a part-time basis.

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment of the three noble and gallant Lords. I very firmly share the view of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, about whether there is really a necessity for this Bill, but it will happen. Having been in government, I know that these things get on tram rails and go along. But words are important and “part-time” is not a very good term to use; there is no doubt that it will be damaging. On that specific point, I disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. It can have a lot of impact and be very damaging. That is not the intention of the Bill, and such a minor change of wording has a huge impact. If the House divides, I will certainly be voting for the amendment. I spoke to the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, who was appalled by the use of the term “part-time” and wanted me to raise that if I spoke. He believes that being in the services is a vocation and was horrified that such a term should be used.

Before I sit down, I congratulate the noble Earl the Minister because, 235 years ago today, his ancestor relieved Gibraltar.

My Lords, I, too, have some sympathy with the amendment tabled by the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Craig, Lord Boyce and Lord Walker. I hesitate to intervene in a debate in which such illustrious military leaders have spoken, but I have some experience—10 years as a Territorial Army soldier and 10 years as an Honorary Air Commodore in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Therefore, all of my military service, limited as it is, has been part-time.

In spite of being part-time, in both my Army unit and now my Air Force unit, we have a great esprit de corps. It used to be that regulars were, without question, full-time— 24/7, on call day and night—and TA soldiers and reserve sailors and airmen were of course part-time. Now, in my No. 600 (City of London) Squadron, I have lots of reservists who want to work full-time. The dividing line between regulars and reservists is blurring and it is a pity that the Government did not choose the option of bringing the Regular Forces and the Reserve Forces closer together. In that case, the issue would not have arisen.

Of course, notions of flexible working have to be introduced in certain areas. They reflect modern patterns of life and could be helpful in reducing the divide between the Regular Forces and the community. Unfortunately, because not enough money is spent on defence, the Regular Forces are now absent from large areas of the country, with no presence at all. Indeed, when I was chairman of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, our PR advisers told us that we had to give up all our logos that said “RAF Benevolent Fund” because young people did not know what the RAF was. We had to put “Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund” in all the logos. That shows how remote from the community today the Armed Forces have become.

In certain fields, such as IT and perhaps some intelligence roles, there are people the regular Armed Forces want to retain who want to work on a flexible basis. I also do not like using the term “part-time”, but I suspect that is what it means. I hesitate to disappoint the noble and gallant Lord, but I fear that I do not think the intention of the Bill is to provide only for personnel to take short-term breaks from regular service. The conversations that I have had with serving officers imply that they see in certain areas that this will be on a fairly long-term basis. Therefore, I am not sure that the noble and gallant Lord’s amendment has the perfect wording. I hope the Minister will say that the Government will try to find better wording to describe the flexible type of working that is necessary in the Armed Forces and which should be introduced.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, is absolutely right to warn us about how the media may treat this. The Daily Mail or some other organ might describe this as “a part-time army” and noble Lords can imagine what they might make of that.

There is a wish to introduce flexible working arrangements. It is a pity that this has not been combined with a rethink of the divide between the reserves and Regular Forces. I do not think “part-time” is the right wording, but I regret to say that I do not think that the noble and gallant Lords’ amendment has the wording absolutely right either.

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lords have made the case about the phrase “part-time” clearly and with force. In Committee, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, questioned,

“the sense and the potential for misunderstanding and for belittling the reputation of the Armed Forces if the phrase ‘part-time’ is specifically used in the mixed and more flexible working arrangements”.—[Official Report, 12/9/17; col. GC 59.]

I have re-read the Hansard report of the Committee stage and my understanding from the Minister’s response there is that the wording in the Bill has been carefully crafted to ensure that protections—such as from recall to either full-time duty or deployment—are in place for any serviceperson working part-time. The Minister suggested that the Bill’s wording will provide more certainty for the individual, affording them rights to remain on a flexible working arrangement that can be revoked only under certain circumstances, such as a national emergency.

However, I understand what the noble and gallant Lord is saying. I believe that it is incumbent on those who are in positions of authority to promote the measures contained in the Bill, although I feel, on my left, some discomfort coming my way. The culture needs to become more positive and not allow there to be a negative connotation that “part-time” is unprofessional, unskilled or lacking in commitment—I think that 24/7/52 is the expression that was used. Will the Minister give a commitment that, as part of the rollout of the flexible working scheme, it is made absolutely clear within the Armed Forces that neither “part-time” nor “flexible” are pejorative terms but that they carry the same level of commitment, professionalism and skill as “full-time”?

My Lords, I spent a number of years as chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board for the reserves, and some of the arguments expressed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and others chime, in a rather reverse way, with what we were trying to achieve on flexible working. If we were looking at a civilian who wanted to spend some of their time as a reservist, could we call that civilian a part-time employee? Of course not—they are a full-time employee, released to play their part in service with the Navy or the Army or the Air Force. If we would not call them a part-time employee simply because they would be doing it part-time, is not the noble and gallant Lord absolutely right to say that to turn it round and call someone who spends time as a regular soldier, airman or naval person and has to have a break for some time a part-time employee, would simply confuse the issue? I entirely agree with the noble and gallant Lords who have spoken that it would be a big mistake indeed. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will bear in mind the necessity of comparing, to some extent, the importance of employees, employers and the Regular Forces to finding a way round this particular issue.

My Lords, I note that the amendment was tabled by my three noble and gallant friends, but I plead with the Minister to remember that the Armed Forces are made up of people. I was very struck by the words of my noble and gallant friend Lord Boyce when he spoke about the impact that the phraseology “part-time” might have on the people in the services. Those of us who have had the privilege of serving in the services know only too well that we must not do anything to interrupt or damage the morale and well-being of our Armed Forces, particularly as regards the observation of what they are doing. Therefore, I strongly support the amendment.

My Lords, I regret that I have come rather late to the Bill. I am also one of those who has never done any form of military service, so I speak as a genuine civilian. I have been listening with great interest to the argument and it does seem to me that there are great dangers in using the phrase “part-time”. I think it is a very clear case. I was particularly interested by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Condon. Will the Minister take into account what the police did when they did not use the phrase “part-time” but found other phraseology? If, in fact, there are legal reasons, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, pointed out—which I find difficult to understand—why “to take breaks” may not answer the case, it really is not beyond the ability of Ministry of Defence lawyers, I should have thought, to look at other phraseology, suitable for the police, that could be adapted to the armed services.

My Lords, before I comment on the amendment, I say at the outset that as I have reflected and listened to the debate I was very much struck by the point made right at the beginning by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce. His words convinced me that there is nothing in civilian life that compares to life in the services. We in this House and in the country must recognise that when you join the Armed Forces, it is not like joining Barclays or Tesco; you are joining an organisation in which you can put your life on the line to defend our country. We in this House and in the whole country, whenever we talk about defence, must remember that and remember that it is people we are talking about.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, when he moved his amendment on this matter in Grand Committee, raised his concerns about the term “part-time”, questioning, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, has said, whether it had,

“the potential for misunderstanding and for belittling the reputation of the Armed Forces”.

He therefore asked a very simple question:

“Could a better, less questionable word or phrase be used instead?”.—[Official Report, 12/9/17; col. GC 69.]

That is at the heart of this debate.

In Grand Committee I made it clear from these Benches that we are sympathetic to the noble and gallant Lord’s amendment, and that position remains unchanged. The men and women of our Armed Forces are truly exceptional. That is accepted around the world, and it is the duty of any Government to protect this reputation. However, terminology is all-important in these matters—a point I recall the Minister also making. Communication and language is complicated enough. Call me old fashioned, but I am sure that I am not alone in this House when I say that plain speaking is the best way to communicate.

In Committee we urged the Government to respond and come back at Report. In the interim, authors of various amendments in Grand Committee received very thoughtful, helpful letters from the Minister. While I accept that this is not the only concern behind the noble and gallant Lord’s amendment, I was pleased to see the Minister stress that the Bill could not be used by a future Administration to force an individual into part-time working. I hope that he will repeat that today.

Of one thing I am certain, and again I echo the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, in Grand Committee:

“First, let me confirm my acceptance in principle of flexible schemes which are viable, enjoy service support and do not detract from the operational 24/7 capability of the Armed Forces”.—[Official Report, 12/9/17; col. GC 69.]

We would certainly endorse that, but I am sure that I am not alone when I say that I do not want to jeopardise the opportunity to put the simple yet powerful aspiration that the noble and gallant Lord articulated so well into action. I hope that the Government will have a positive response to help us this afternoon.

My Lords, I begin by apologising to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and to the House for the guidance that I gave him in my letter following Committee when I said that according to the advice I had received, it would not be possible to amend the Long Title of the Bill. That advice resulted from an honest interpretation of the Companion to the Standing Orders. It was given in good faith but it was clearly incorrect in light of further advice from the Public Bill Office, and I am sorry.

These amendments stem from concerns previously expressed by noble and noble and gallant Lords over the use of the phrase “part-time” in the Bill; namely, that its use serves to belittle the reputation of our Armed Forces and perhaps even puts those personnel who choose to work part-time at risk of some form of denigration from colleagues amounting even to bullying and harassment, because the Armed Forces will see part-time working as somehow less worthy. I have to say to the noble and gallant Lord that I do not agree with that analysis, and nor do the service chiefs.

It is important to appreciate the context of what we seek to do. The measures in the Bill are part of a series of steps we are taking to modernise the Armed Forces’ terms of service. They are entirely of a piece with some of the other forward-looking steps we have taken in the recent past, such as lifting the ban on women in close combat roles, which have helped to further modernise our Armed Forces, making them a more attractive career choice to wider sections of our society. We must continue down this path if we are to be truly representative of the people whom we serve.

As I have mentioned previously, this measure has the full support of the service chiefs. Our use of the word “part-time” is absolutely deliberate. The meaning of statute has to be clear. We want to be clear to Parliament and to our people that part-time working is indeed what we are introducing, albeit with certain constraints to protect operational capability. Personnel will be able to reduce their commitment to less than full-time and their pay will be adjusted accordingly. Whichever way one tries to explain it, this is part-time working and that is the main reason why the Bill is drafted as it is and why we continue to believe this wording to be appropriate. The noble and gallant Lord’s amendment seeks to disguise what we plan to do. I do not think that legislation should ever go down that sort of path. Legislation should make its meaning clear.

The noble and gallant Lord will no doubt argue that his amendment encapsulates the Government’s policy in different words. It does not. The phrase,

“take breaks from full-time service”,

could describe a variety of different things, including some of the flexible working opportunities already in place, such as unpaid leave, career intermissions and maternity leave. We are introducing something through the Bill that is distinctly different from those things and therefore the way we describe it needs to be very clear. The services are not afraid of plain language and plain language is what we are providing here.

It may help if I repeat what I mentioned in my round-robin letter—that “part-time” has been used in a previous Armed Forces Act. This is not an unprecedented use of the phrase in our legislation. It occurs, for example, in Section 2(1A) and 2(1B) of the Armed Forces Act 1966. It has never caused problems in the past. Circumlocution is therefore not only a wrong approach in my view, it is also unnecessary.

When the noble and gallant Lord advances an argument, I take it seriously, as does the Ministry of Defence, but I cannot agree with his premise. We do not accept the argument that the use of “part-time” will denigrate the individual who works under this arrangement, or denigrate the services in any way. Neither do we agree with the suggestion that those who choose to work part-time for a limited period are not the type of people we need in today’s Armed Forces. On the contrary, it is arguable that those who choose to work part-time, for a temporary period, for reduced pay, rather than leave the services, display an admirable commitment to serving their country. This is precisely the calibre of person that we need to retain and recruit in today’s Armed Forces.

Times move on. Working part-time is a modern, widely recognised and practised working pattern, including for those whose service and work are a vocation, to pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord West, quoting the noble Viscount, Lord Slim. As noble Lords may recall, I held a briefing session on 11 July this year, which some noble Lords attended, where two serving commanding officers were also in attendance. Both those officers genuinely welcomed the introduction of part-time working, which they saw as another tool to help us look after our people at times in their lives when they need it most. They had no difficulty with either the concept or the terminology we are using to describe it. The reason that they had no difficulty is that these new measures and others that we are introducing elsewhere to help improve the overall offer to our people will encourage service men and women to stay and may attract others to join.

Let us imagine a serviceperson learning of a debilitating disease that is gravely affecting a close relation or partner. Because of this Bill, they are able to seek to serve part-time to care for that relative and look after their children for a short period. I think that that service man or woman would feel valued and supported, and positive about the option of part-time service—not, as some have suggested, demeaned or diminished. Far from detracting from the reputation of the Armed Forces, our judgment is, for those reasons, that these measures will serve to enhance their reputation as a modern organisation that supports its people.

I will just respond to the concern that has been expressed that personnel who work part-time may be bullied and harassed as a result. First, let me be very clear that we take a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment in the Armed Forces. We have policies and processes in place which promote and sustain a culture of inclusiveness, which contributes to the moral component of operational capability. If we are presented with evidence that the high standards we expect in this regard have not been met, we will take swift action to address it. To respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, I say that we are also undertaking work to encourage the cultural attitudes and behaviours in the Armed Forces which will help to ensure that these new measures are a success. We are developing a separate plan and a stakeholder engagement strategy, and we will work closely with the services to ensure that these necessary changes are put in place.

I hope the noble and gallant Lord will not mind my pointing out a risk in the approach he has adopted. The emphasis he is placing on the word “part-time” is disproportionate to the reality of what we expect to happen. We are not talking about large numbers: we expect only a modest number of our people to either work part-time or restrict their absence from their home bases. These will not be permanent arrangements. They will last only a limited time, during which personnel will remain subject to service law, even when they are not required to be at work. They will remain an integral part of the whole force for defence, delivering this country’s operational capability, and they will remain subject to the services’ right to recall them from an arrangement in certain defined circumstances, such as a national emergency.

I therefore argue that the noble and gallant Lord should allow his fears to be allayed. For the reasons I have set out, I firmly believe we should let the language of the Bill remain intact. I hope that the noble and gallant Lord, on reflection, will feel similarly.

My Lords, first I thank all those who contributed to this important debate. In his defence, the Minister has returned very frequently, as he did in Committee and earlier, to describing what is going to happen for the individual. That is all very important and very worthy, and I am not questioning that—none of us is. That is not where we are coming from. The issue is about the use of “part-time” in primary legislation when the phrase has no legal meaning and has, over the years, changed in its interpretation. How will it remain absolutely the same as it is today in 10 or 15 years’ time, as he suggested, when it will by then be part of the Armed Forces Act 2006, where it will remain as a term of service? I accept that there are criticisms, which need to be looked at, as to exactly what we have proposed. But I was sincerely hoping that there would be a further chance to examine between us the way in which this extra type of flexible working can be provided for in law. Clearly he is not prepared to move even in that direction so, with reluctance, I intend to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 4

Moved by

4: Clause 1, page 1, line 17, at end insert—

“( ) In section 373 (orders, regulations and rules), in subsection (3), after paragraph (e) insert—“(ea) regulations under section 329(1) which make provision of a kind mentioned in section 329(2)(ha), (i), or (j),(eb) regulations under section 329(3A),”.”

Amendment 4 agreed.

Amendment 5

Moved by

5: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

“Protection of pay and allowances

(1) Nothing in this Act shall lead to the full-time equivalent level of remuneration provided to persons serving with a regular force being reduced.(2) In this section, “remuneration” means—(a) basic pay;(b) the x-factor allowance; and(c) any other universal payments,provided to persons serving with a regular force.”

My Lords, Amendment 5 repeats our amendment on pay and allowances from Grand Committee. Taken together with Amendment 6, it offers greater protection and security to our service men and women who may need to use the option of flexible or part-time working as described and set out in the Bill.

I was grateful to the Minister for his response in Grand Committee and for following it up with letters to me and to other noble Lords. In Committee, the Minister offered reassurances, saying that,

“the introduction of part-time working will not be used to lower the full-time equivalent basic rate of pay, the x-factor allowance or any other universal allowances or payments available to personnel”.—[Official Report, 12/9/17; col. GC 95.]

This commitment was very much welcomed. As we have seen on so many occasions, the views of one Minister cannot be taken as representative of the views of all future Ministers, although we on this side hope that this particular Minister stays for a long time yet. I hope that the Government will accept this and feel able to put our amendment into the Bill, thus demonstrating commitment to our hard-working service men and women.

I now turn to the existing options for flexible working and, in doing so, seek to build a bridge to demonstrate that there is a clear link in the objectives of these two amendments. In a letter that the Minister sent last month, he outlined three options for flexible working that now exist: working from home, compressed hours and variable start and finish times. His letter explained in detail how these options work and, while this information was welcome, I look for assurance that the three flexible working options will continue to be available alongside the new part-time working arrangements enshrined in the Bill. The Minister’s letter did not quite make that clear. The letter said that existing flexible working arrangements recognise that a small variation in an individual’s working arrangements can have a positive impact on their working lives, which is true. It went on to say that there will be circumstances where existing options will not be sufficient and a significant reduction in working hours over a longer period can be facilitated by a part-time working arrangement.

Those arguments might seem perfectly reasonable, but I have some concern. Many service personnel, faced with some domestic or other problem causing them to seek to change their service work commitment will, nevertheless, have great difficulties if the only option on offer involves a cut in pay and a reduction in pensions. Bearing in mind that part-time working, as set out in the Bill, will involve a cut in pay and pensions, can the Minister assure us that each application for changing service work commitment will be looked at on its merits and that using the flexible working options that he outlined will be considered alongside the part-time working arrangement?

I turn to Amendment 6, which relates to the future status of Joint Service Publication 750, which outlines the range of flexible working options that I have just spoken about. It had been a concern of all sides that the introduction of part-time working—which, as I have said, will take a proportionate amount of pay and pensions from applicants—was a drastic overreaction to a genuine need for greater flexibility. I know that the Minister will not accept that, but he is aware of the concerns on this point. We were pleased, therefore, with clarification on the provisions of JSP 750 and the anticipated take-up of the part-time offer. I believe that many of the worries expressed across the House have been addressed by the Minister’s response. However, while part-time working will have a statutory footing following the passage of this legislation, this is not true of the existing flexible working options.

This amendment seeks to ensure that the options in JSP 750 will continue to be available and that, if that document is ever withdrawn by a Secretary of State, regulations must be brought forward to make a similar provision. I beg to move.

My Lords, in this group I will speak to Amendment 7. We all want flexible and part-time working to be a success. Therefore it is important to monitor whether these arrangements are helpful in convincing some who may not have ordinarily thought of joining the Armed Forces so to do—I beg your Lordships’ pardon. I am very sorry, I am speaking to the wrong group.

My Lords, I believe that I spoke to an identical amendment as the first in this group in Grand Committee—it was then Amendment 9, I think. I hope that what I am able to say today will reassure the noble Lord completely. The Bill will allow the Defence Council to make regulations to give regular service personnel the right to apply to vary temporarily the terms on which they serve. Specifically, the Bill will allow us to introduce both part-time working and a new form of geographically separated service into the Armed Forces, which together we refer to as “flexible working”.

I am grateful to those noble Lords who have expressed their agreement with the principle that it is fair and appropriate for those regular service personnel who elect in the future to vary the terms on which they serve to see a commensurate variation in the reward that they receive.

I should say up front that nothing in the Bill enables us to do what the noble Lord fears we might do. At present, we envisage that those who work part-time will have their pay proportionately reduced, and those who reduce their liability for separated service will have their x-factor reduced by an appropriate proportion, which we will discuss with the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body.

As I said in Grand Committee, we have worked—and continue to work—closely with the services to ensure that any reduction in pay, or other benefits, for those who successfully apply to work part-time, or reduce their liability for separated service temporarily, will be, above all else, fair and reasonable to those who work under the new arrangements as well as to those who do not. For reassurance, I will repeat what I said at Second Reading and in Committee: the Bill will not result in any reduction in the basic pay, x-factor or other payments available to regulars who do not take up these new flexible working arrangements. There is a simple reason I can be categorical about that: the Bill deals only with the proposed new types of flexible working. The legislative provisions that govern the pay and conditions of full commitment regulars are contained in different sections of the Armed Forces Act 2006—as the noble Lord will know, having very successfully taken that Act through this House as a Minister in the then Government.

As the noble Lord of course understands, we envisage at present that those who work part-time will have their pay proportionately reduced, and those who reduce their liability for separated service will have their x-factor reduced by an appropriate proportion. As I have said, noble Lords will be aware that the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body has a responsibility to make recommendations on service pay. It does that through its annual report, which makes recommendations to the Government on an annual Armed Forces pay award, based on a body of evidence gathered from service personnel and their families and the MoD. It also commissions its own analysis and research from other bodies. Accordingly the MoD will engage with the AFPRB and submit a paper of evidence for its consideration on the changes we need to make, in time for the introduction of the measures contained in this Bill from 2019.

I hope there are no lingering concerns that service personnel may be made to work part-time as a savings measure. The regulations under the Bill will make it clear that any application for part-time working or restricted separation must be made by the serviceperson. I am therefore clear that the Ministry of Defence will not be able to impose a change in working pattern on individuals, and that any such change will have to be instigated by the individual. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, that the measures in this Bill will be considered alongside the existing provisions for flexible working that he referred to, so that service men and women will have those options open to them and can accordingly choose the road they go down.

Amendment 6 seeks to protect existing flexible working arrangements. The new flexibilities that this Bill will introduce are part of a series of steps we are taking to modernise the conditions of service we offer to those who serve, and for those who are considering a career in the services. The long-term aim, as I have mentioned, is to improve recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces. We are constantly looking forward and trying to reflect wider best practice in the development of our personnel policies, and we are making good progress. This is the least that our people deserve. In terms of the flexible working options that the Ministry of Defence already provides, such as variable start and finish times, home working and compressed hours, we have over the past two years continued to add to and refine the policies that support them to ensure that they are the best they can be, and we will continue doing so.

As with any HR policy operated within other organisations, it is essential that we have the ability to manage and adjust our flexible working policy to meet the emerging needs of our people and the services. These policies are published in Joint Service Publication 750, a document available to all personnel, to ensure clarity, coherence and transparency for both service personnel and their chain of command. The House can be absolutely assured that we have no intention of withdrawing these existing opportunities for flexible working, which are now well published and in operation in each service. Some have been on offer to our people since 2005 and others have been developed to meet their need for a degree of flexibility in the modern world. To reduce the flexible working options, which is the implied concern in the noble Lord’s amendment, would be a retrograde step given our objective of modernising the Armed Forces offer and would run counter to our aim of increasing the flexibility available to meet our people’s needs.

To be crystal clear, though, to your Lordships, the flexible duties trial that is not part of JSP 750 policy and has been run to help inform the new part-time and geographically restricted service will of course cease when the new arrangements become available to supersede it. However, that is the only exception to what I have laid out. Following these assurances and the circumstances I have outlined, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, will feel comfortable in withdrawing his amendment.

My Lords, the Minister was right when he said that I had some responsibility for the 2006 Act. I introduced the Bill, but I can take no credit for its passing because, before it did so, the then Prime Minister rang me to award me the DCM—“Don’t Come Monday”—and I was no longer a Minister, so I never actually saw the Bill through. Nevertheless, I was responsible for introducing it.

I thank the Minister for his positive response, which reassured me. We do not want to abandon what has already become established and is worth while, so I hope that the Government will see that through, as the Minister indicated. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.

Amendment 6 not moved.

Amendment 7

Moved by

7: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

“Inclusion in the Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report

(1) Section 343A of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (armed forces covenant report) is amended as follows.(2) After subsection (3), insert— “(3A) In preparing an armed forces covenant report the Secretary of State must—(a) outline the options available to persons serving with a regular force in relation to part-time working and serving subject to geographic restrictions; and(b) provide his assessment of what impact the options in paragraph (a) have had on recruitment and retention.””

My Lords, Amendment 7, if accepted, would afford the Government the opportunity to enhance the value of the Armed Forces covenant annual report. The Government deserve credit for the full implementation of the covenant and for ensuring that there is an annual report. The report shines a light on the way this country treats those who put their lives on the line to defend our freedom. It is made even more valuable by the fact that there is an external members reference group which can pick and choose what it wants to consider and comment on. So why not go one step further and ensure that, when preparing the report, the Secretary of State for Defence must take into account the two tasks that would be placed on him by paragraphs (a) and (b) in this amendment?

We discussed this in Committee and have returned to it again on Report because, on reading the Hansard report of the Committee’s deliberations, there seemed to us to be some ambiguity in the Minister’s response. In replying to me, he said:

“I share the view of the noble Lord about the importance of measuring and reporting on the impact of the changes that will be introduced through this Bill. I want to ensure that it is done in the most appropriate and effective way for both the MoD and Parliament”.

However, he concluded:

“it is likely that a future report will include a section on the introduction of the measures included in this Bill … That would be entirely appropriate”.—[Official Report, 12/9/17; cols. GC 99-100.]

This debate is really about allowing the Minister the opportunity to state without any doubt that a report on the measures included in this Bill will be included in the annual Armed Forces covenant report. I beg to move.

My Lords, I apologise to the House for jumping the gun earlier.

We all want to make flexible and part-time working a success, and it is therefore important to monitor whether these arrangements are helpful in convincing some who might not ordinarily have thought of joining the Armed Forces so to do, or in persuading some existing members to remain in the Armed Forces if they were considering leaving. The Armed Forces covenant annual report is the report on the state of the armed services to the nation, so I ask the Minister not to close the door on this level of reporting. It would be helpful if he could assure the House that, in the future, the MoD would consider doing just this.

My Lords, I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baroness about the importance of measuring and reporting on the impact of the changes that will be introduced through this Bill. As I have mentioned a number of times previously, we expect a modest, yet significant, number of our people to take up the new opportunities this Bill will introduce. Therefore, we must ensure that our reporting on this subject is both appropriate and effective for the MoD and Parliament.

I am pleased that noble Lords recognise that the long-term aim of providing these new arrangements, alongside a range of other measures, is to modernise the terms of service and, ultimately, improve Armed Forces recruitment and retention. As we have discussed previously, the changes we are introducing do fall within the scope of the Armed Forces covenant. Noble Lords may recall that I said, in Grand Committee, that it was likely that a future report on the Armed Forces covenant would include a section on the introduction of the measures included in this Bill and their effect.

The current wording of Section 343A, inserted by the Armed Forces Act 2011, which places the obligation on the Secretary of State to lay an annual report on the covenant before Parliament, directs him in preparing the report to,

“have regard in particular to … the unique obligations of, and sacrifices made by, the armed forces; … the principle that it is desirable to remove disadvantages arising for service people from membership, or former membership, of the armed forces”.

It also advises the Secretary of State to include,

“such other fields as the Secretary of State may determine”.

We judge that this broad wording is sufficient to deliver the specific outcomes that the noble Lord seeks and, therefore, does not need amending as proposed.

There is a good reason why I am confident in saying that. A look back at the five Armed Forces covenant reports that have been produced since 2011 confirms that they contain a very broad spectrum of information and data on policy developments that have fallen within the covenant’s scope. A good example of that is the Forces Help to Buy scheme, introduced in 2014, under the new employment model. The scheme has featured regularly in annual reports, and the figures for August 2017 show that, since its launch, more than 12,000 of our people have benefited from the scheme, having received some £184 million to help them get on, or stay on, the property ladder.

A key feature of the reporting has been a description of the nature of the policy change being brought in and, where possible, a measure of its impact following introduction. I can undertake that we will take the same approach to reporting on the introduction of the flexible working opportunities from 2019. Those opportunities will, in the long term, improve recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces and, in the near term, our people will see improvements in their terms of service, and they will benefit from the increased level of personal control over their careers that the new flexibilities will bring. We will ensure that we capture the introduction of the policy change in reports on the Armed Forces covenant and, where possible, a measure of the impact following its introduction from 2019 onwards.

For these reasons, we judge—and I hope the noble Lord will draw the same conclusion in light of what I have said—that it is unnecessary to create legislation requiring the Secretary of State to report on the new measures that this Bill will introduce. I hope, following the assurances I have given, that the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, will agree to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I do not have the copper-bottomed “will” that I sought, but in this case I have to say “near enough is good enough” and I will therefore withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.

Amendment 8 not moved.

Amendment 9

Moved by

9: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—


After section 329 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 insert—“329A Accommodation(1) A person to whom section 329(2)(ha) applies is entitled to service family accommodation or single living accommodation.(2) Six months after section 329(2)(ha) comes into effect, and every three years thereafter, the Secretary of State must lay a report before both Houses evaluating the impact of that section on family accommodation and single living accommodation, and providing information on future accommodation needs in the light of trends of serving on a part-time basis.””

My Lords, this amendment, too, replicates an amendment that was brought in Committee and refers to an issue that is fundamental to recruitment, retention and forces’ welfare, as well as the welfare of forces families: accommodation. In his response in Committee the Minister suggested that the numbers of people who might avail themselves of the opportunity to work part-time under the arrangements of the Bill would perhaps be sufficiently limited that they would not impact on forces accommodation. The idea was welcomed that all members of Her Majesty’s forces, whether full-time or part-time, if they are regulars, would be entitled to the same accommodation provisions.

However, if more people are acquired because some people work part-time, so that you might have three people instead of two people doing the job, each of those individuals would be entitled to accommodation, and at some point this might have an impact on the requirement for accommodation as a whole. Clearly, as the Minister stated in the discussion on Amendment 7, there may be cases where this will be overcome by Help to Buy and through the new employment model. However, to the extent that this is not the case, it is hugely important for service men and women and their families to believe that Her Majesty’s Government will provide adequate accommodation for them.

For that reason, we have again tabled an amendment on accommodation, both to restate that service men and women who avail themselves of this flexible model are entitled to appropriate family accommodation or single-living accommodation, and, perhaps more importantly in the longer term, to have certainty that the Government are reviewing what forces accommodation is available and whether it will be suitable for the number of service men and women we have.

One of the key things is what is available and habitable and the extent to which the accommodation, and the maintenance contracts which deal with it, are fit for purpose. We have been told on various occasions that CarillionAmey now meets its key performance indicators, yet there are still many complaints. If it meets its key performance indicators, does that mean that they are not the right ones? While this might not be the appropriate amendment to bring that forward, it would be welcome if the Minister could at least explain when we might be able to discuss such things.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Smith and Lady Jolly, for tabling a further amendment on service accommodation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, noted in Committee, there are already significant pressures on service accommodation, and that is before we even begin to consider the move to the future accommodation model from 2019.

I will not go into the detail about our concerns on the future accommodation model, but clearly there are urgent questions for the Government to answer on how the Bill will affect personnel who rely on service accommodation, particularly when the system is shaken up. There will also be more questions for the Government to answer in the future as the new system is rolled out. I am therefore glad to see the addition of the second part of Amendment 9, which would require the Secretary of State not only to provide a periodic snapshot but to be proactive in anticipating future accommodation needs. I hope that the Minister will provide us with some answers—perhaps in a further round of letters before Third Reading—and offer a firm commitment; it is important that these things are reported back to Parliament.

My Lords, Amendment 9 is similar to the amendment to which I spoke in Grand Committee—I think it was Amendment 13 on that occasion—which sought to amend the Bill to ensure that personnel who successfully apply to work part-time will still be entitled to service family accommodation and resettlement support.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, will recall that during discussions in Grand Committee I provided assurances that regular service personnel undertaking part-time working would retain the entitlements currently available to full-time regulars. I was able to give those assurances because providing our people with service accommodation is pivotal to the work we are doing to enable personnel and their families with mobility in support of defence capability.

To support my earlier reassurances, I stress again that regular service personnel who successfully apply to work part-time following the introduction of these new measures will be entitled to service accommodation commensurate with their personal status category and other qualifying criteria in the same way as their full-time colleagues. There is no reason to alter the entitlement to accommodation for those who undertake part-time working in the future since these individuals will retain an enduring liability for mobility and will still be subject to the same moves associated with new assignments as others in the regular Armed Forces.

Having said that, defence recognises that the current system for accommodation can be unaffordable and inflexible and that it does not support personnel to live in the way that many of them want to live today. Currently, around 20% of personnel opt out of subsidised accommodation because it does not work for them. We are reforming the accommodation model so that all regular personnel can receive support to live how they want to. We recognise the need to offer accommodation that meets their needs and expectations today and in the future.

I spoke during Grand Committee of the future accommodation model—FAM—project that is due to be introduced in 2019 as part of the defence people programme. FAM is currently exploring options for a more flexible accommodation offer to give service personnel more choice in how they live and to offer accommodation based on need, not rank or marital status. Extensive work is being undertaken to consider a wide range of options, from widening entitlement based on the current model of service-provided accommodation, through to making greater use of the private market by providing a subsidy to help more personnel live in private accommodation, including by helping to meet their aspirations for home ownership. We hope to be able to say more about this by the end of the year. However, the key assurance I wish to give to the noble Baroness is that eligibility under FAM will not be altered or subject to geographical restriction for those personnel who work part-time when the new measures come into force.

Support for service families has been a recurring theme during the Bill’s reading in this House. That is wholly appropriate because it lies at the very heart of the work we are doing to support our people. I feel it is important to reaffirm the point that I have made throughout, which is that enhanced flexible working options are about providing opportunities for our people who want to work more flexibly and not disadvantaging them or their families by limiting access to support and entitlements. We are not in the business of providing new opportunities to our people in one breath and disincentivising them on their accommodation in the next.

The noble Baroness seeks through this amendment to commit defence to providing information on future accommodation needs in the light of trends of serving on a part-time basis. I have said before that we expect a small yet significant number of personnel to undertake flexible working. I think that the noble Baroness understands that the long-term impact of these new options will be difficult to assess in the early years of implementation. For these reasons the impact on service accommodation is likely be minimal, but it will also be challenging to measure, particularly in light of the fact that there are no plans for the entitlements to be altered. That is not an attempt to dodge the issue, because I am able to say that we are considering options to include questions on accommodation provisions in the Armed Forces continuous attitude survey to help us better understand the impact of FAM on retention when the new model is introduced.

With all this in mind, we will work closely with the services to monitor the impact of these new measures on personnel who choose to work part-time and aim to report any findings in the Armed Forces covenant annual report.

I am very willing to have a meeting with the noble Baroness to discuss repairs and maintenance of the defence estate, which falls slightly outside the scope of her amendment, but I hope that, for the purposes of the amendment, she has been reassured by what I have been able to say today and that she will agree to withdraw it.

I thank the Minister for his very full reply. It would be nice to think that Her Majesty’s Government as a whole and, in particular, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will ensure that the money put aside for defence will enable all those words to be brought about in practice and that we do not need to worry about the money that will be put aside for accommodation. In the light of the discussion about the future accommodation model, the idea that proposals will come forward later in the year and the suggestion of putting questions into the Armed Forces covenant report, I am content to withdraw the amendment. However, I should very much like to take the Minister up on his suggestion of a meeting.

Amendment 9 withdrawn.

Clause 3: Short title, commencement and extent

Amendment 10

Moved by

10: Clause 3, page 2, line 25, leave out “section 329” and insert “sections 329 and 373”

Amendment 10 agreed.

In the Title

Amendment 11 not moved.