I am pleased to be called in this debate on the Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill.
I must declare my interests as a member of the Royal British Legion; my father was a second world war navigator in the RAF; and my most prized possession is my grandfather’s annotated Bible from his time in a prisoner of war camp in the first world war. The debt of gratitude we owe our armed forces is something I never forget.
I will focus my remarks on two aspects of the Bill: clause 8, “Armed forces covenant”; and clause 9, “Reserve forces: flexibility of commitments”. As the previous leader of a council, I always thought that we should pay more than just lip service to the armed forces covenant. We had a named councillor who was our champion. We introduced priority help for housing, and financial incentives for leisure activities. I am pleased that clause 8 strengthens the covenant by imposing a legal duty on authorities, removing the disadvantages arising from either serving or former personnel. That is particularly necessary in the matter of not just housing but education.
We have all heard stories of how the education of the children of serving personnel has been disrupted. Even when families have chosen to stay put, it is not always clear that the school has made every effort to receive the pupil premium that is allocated for children of serving personnel. The silos of the different government authorities are affected. Those authorities have a tendency not to look outside their own boundaries and proactively see how to ensure that the service provided for serving and former personnel is as wide-reaching as possible. I therefore welcome that clause.
On clause 9, like many other MPs, I have had constituents contact me to say that they would like to do more as part of the volunteer force to support the full-time services.
This clause amends the Reserve Forces Act 1996, replacing the full-time service commitment with a new continuous service commitment that can be part-time. That will enable members of the reserve forces to undertake further work in a period of full-time or new part-time service, putting them on a par with their regular counterparts. The clause is an excellent and pragmatic way of enhancing the strength of the regular forces, in particular with specialists, who can do more as part-time volunteer forces.
To finish, I am always struck by the depth of loyalty felt by our volunteer reserve forces. Some have finished as permanent members of the armed services and some have joined as new volunteers. Indeed, we are blessed that so many of our colleagues in both Houses are reservists. That new clause will enable those reservists to do even more for our forces. I have no hesitation in confirming that I will vote for this Bill later and, as my father always says, “We never know when we might need them again.”