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House of Lords Hansard
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Armed Forces: Morale
29 November 2017
Volume 787

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the review by the National Security Adviser on morale in the Armed Forces.

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My Lords, the Ministry of Defence strives continually to ensure that our people feel valued and that their contribution and sacrifice are recognised. I regret that recent press speculation around the national security capability review has created a deeply unhelpful atmosphere of uncertainty for many of our service men and women. The review is ongoing and no decisions have been taken.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer but I have to say that I am a little disappointed by it. The latest continuous attitude survey shows disappointing aspects of morale within the services and there is no doubt that, certainly among people I have met and know within the services—particularly young Army officers—there is a real drop in morale. To say that this is press speculation is slightly disingenuous. Since the Levene study, any work looking at costings of any parts of defence is done out in the sticks. This means that the people involved very close to those things are aware of it. I do not believe that talk about getting rid of the two landing docks, fewer Army numbers and so on has been made up by the press. These clearly are things that are being looked at in that arena, and that causes a great deal of worry. There is no doubt that the continual downward pressure on defence is having an impact on morale. Does the Minister not think that making a statement that we intend to not have any further cuts to the forces we have and that we will strive to get Force 2025 would have a wonderful impact on morale?

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My Lords, the thing to emphasise here is that absolutely no decisions have been taken by Ministers. Any fall in morale is clearly a concern that we have to take seriously, and we do. I do not think that there is a single cause for this, but press reports which imply that decisions have been taken which have not been are deeply unhelpful to the men and women in the Armed Forces whose lives and livelihoods these reports directly affect.

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My Lords, does the Minister not agree that, should the Government see their way to announcing a modest rise in the defence budget, this would have an inevitable upward boost to morale?

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My Lords, there are many of us who wish the defence budget were larger—but every department of government has to live within its cash-limited means.

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My Lords, in view of the uncertainty to which the noble Earl referred, what advice would he give to a young person wanting to make a career in the Royal Marines.

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My Lords, I hope that my speech last night in the debate on the Royal Marines settled many concerns. The idea that the Government are going to abolish the Royal Marines or give up our amphibious capability is, frankly, ridiculous. I hope that I was able to settle that point.

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My Lords, the defence of the realm is the number one responsibility of government, yet during the Budget there was not a single word about defence. Does that help morale? Will the Minister also comment on the fact that the retention rate of some of our best people is worsening nearly every week?

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My Lords, my noble friend has a deep knowledge of all these matters, in particular on the personnel front. There is no denying that recruitment and retention are currently a challenge, as they always are when the economy is growing and there is a demographic shortage of young people. That is precisely why we have to focus on the things that matter to those thinking of joining the Armed Forces and the offer that we make to them, not only in terms of pay but in modernising the lived experience of service personnel—that is where the covenant comes in—and in the Armed Forces family strategy.

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My Lords, the Minister has said that the press are being deeply unhelpful. Now, the Minister has been around long enough to know that being helpful is not a core objective of the press. The MoD’s own attitude survey shows satisfaction in the forces over the past year has declined in almost all areas. The key measure, satisfaction with service life in general, has decreased from 61% in 2009 to 42% this year—a one-third decline. This is a service morale crisis. How are the Government going to arrest this decline if the review does not yield significant additional money?

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My Lords, Britain has a competitive advantage in defence, and that advantage is based on the commitment, professionalism and skills of our people. We place heavy demands on them all, including those in the Armed Forces whom we ask to risk their lives on operations. Therefore, we place a very high premium on recruiting, retaining and developing the right people. As set out in the 2015 SDSR, we have identified a number of long-term plans to ensure that the service offer to which I referred better reflects the aspirations and expectations of our personnel and new recruits.

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My Lords, our future military capability depends on retaining sufficient talented and experienced personnel. That retention in turn depends on offering those personnel sufficiently challenging, rewarding and exciting training. Can the Minister reassure the House that, in its search for savings, the Ministry of Defence will not be looking to cut back in this area, which would be the falsest of all false economies?

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The challenge, when looking for efficiencies rather than straightforward savings, is to achieve the same or a better level of outputs with the money available. I can tell the noble and gallant Lord that, while training is of course under the spotlight, what we do not want to do is to dilute or degrade the quality of that training for those whose standards we set great store by.