Speaking in a debate on the Armed Forces, James Cleverly highlights the need for better flexible working options for armed forces personnel and welcomes moves to commonality in the equipment used by our strike brigades to simplify spares and repairs.
James Cleverly (Braintree) (Con)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger; I appreciate the opportunity to be squeezed into the debate, and I thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) for securing this important and timely debate. I want to focus on a small number of issues that have been taxing my mind for some time, with regard to the structure of the British armed forces. A number of hon. Members have spoken with great knowledge about the senior service, the Royal Navy. No one has specifically discussed the RAF, and a crueller man than I am might suggest that that is because they are the RAF, and they kind of deserve it—but I would not want anyone to think that. [Interruption.] Ah, no— my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) mentioned the RAF, so never mind, that is forgiven.
I want to focus on the Army, but some things that I say will be broadly applicable to the armed forces as a whole. I will echo some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney, to the effect that the key word is flexibility. I was pleased that Her Majesty outlined in her Gracious Speech the Government’s willingness to introduce the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill. This is the right time, if not perhaps slightly overdue, to recognise the different demographics of people joining the armed forces. I cannot help thinking that if we were better at managing flexible working for armed forces personnel we would not lose so many people at the pinch point where personal and family circumstances and military commitments conspire to put them under pressure that forces them to leave. If we could find a way to manage the transitions from full-time to part-time and back, we would not lose so many highly experienced and important individuals.
I am going to be an unapologetic nerd on the subject of equipment. As a Conservative, I obviously believe that all the questions of the future are answered somewhere in the past, and I draw the Minister’s attention to other periods in our military history when we have been under huge—often existential—threat as well as severe financial limitations. It should be noted that in the brigades and divisions that went ashore at Normandy the Sherman tank platform had commonality across a wide range of weapon systems. There were the standard Shermans, with the Sherman Firefly in support, the Sexton 25-pounder armoured gun and the Achilles anti-tank gun, all based on a common Sherman chassis, which meant that spares and repairs were easily and efficiently delivered to the front line. I welcome the fact that we are moving to a shared platform now for our strike brigades, and I urge Ministers not to do what we have done throughout our history, which is to start with the best intentions for commonality and shared platforms, and then drift until finally the hard-working men and women in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers are presented with a plethora of platforms that they have to repair and maintain during conflict. Flexibility as to people and platforms must be the watchword.