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Service Personnel (Welfare)

Volume 508: debated on Monday 29 March 2010

7. What recent progress has been made by his Department on improving the welfare of service personnel. (324452)

The Ministry of Defence has robust welfare provision that is kept under continual review to ensure that it remains fit for purpose. We have a responsibility to our service personnel, their families and veterans, and we take it very seriously. Recent improvements include the provision of extra facilities in Afghanistan to help service personnel keep in touch with their families, the creation of the Army recovery capability, and the review of the armed forces compensation scheme. We also published the service Command Paper on the nation’s commitment to the armed forces, their families and veterans.

At a recent surgery I held at RAF Benson there was a stream of criticisms of the MOD and MODern Housing Solutions, ranging from a family with a small child being left without hot water, serious gas leaks to walls running with mould. Given that in a written answer to me on 25 March the Minister admitted that there is not even a breakdown of complaints by location to better manage such problems, is this not symptomatic of the shameful disdain with which the Government treat the issue of service housing?

I am sorry, but I am not going to take any lessons from the Conservatives about investment in armed forces housing. At RAF Benson, 99 per cent. of the accommodation is either in grade 1 or grade 2 standard condition, which means that it either exceeds or meets the Government’s decent homes standard. In respect of MHS, I have put in place people who act as equivalents to estate managers, who do a very good job of dealing with individual problems. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular problem relating to the work of Defence Estates at Benson, or that of MHS, he should get in touch with me.

The Public Accounts Committee report, “Treating Injury and Illness Arising on Military Operations”, concluded that although the MOD’s care of the seriously injured had to date been highly effective, there were concerns about whether it could cope with a significant increase in the number of casualties. What steps will the Minister take to formalise the current voluntary arrangements with the NHS to handle overflow military patients, and how might he ensure that there is a suitable environment for military personnel in civilian hospitals?

As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the care our servicemen and women are getting at Selly Oak and Headley Court is second to none, and may I put on record our thanks to the dedicated staff that do that job? The NHS and Defence Medical Services put in place robust handling arrangements to deal with our surge of last summer, and we also put in place similar arrangements this year, although, thankfully, they were not needed. In April, health services will move to the new hospital at Selly Oak in April, which will have a state-of-the-art, military-dedicated ward for our servicemen and women who are injured on operations.

(Woodspring): On leave back home during their deployment in Afghanistan, a growing number of service personnel have been refused entry to pubs and clubs because some local authorities refuse to accept military identity cards, which have date-of-birth details, as proof as age. It is scandalous that our troops can die in Helmand but be refused a pint in their local. The Government have known about this problem for some time, so why has nothing been done? Will they now, in their last days, do something about it?

That is an issue for local authorities, but may I say that a number of public houses and businesses not only welcome our servicemen and women, but give them discounts and support the production of the military ID card? I would like the hon. Gentleman to let me know of any specific examples that he may have of where people have been turned away, because I agree that this is not an acceptable way to treat these brave servicemen and women.