Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Let me begin by paying tribute to the armed services, at this time of all times, for the sacrifices that they have made and continue to make on behalf of our nation. It is also proper that we recognise the sacrifice made by their families, and I am sure that the House is at one in showing its support both for our brave service personnel and for their families.
It is right that the issue of the welfare of service personnel and their families should have crossed the political divide. In that spirit, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on their work in the previous Government on producing last year’s Green Paper on the service personnel. The Command Paper brought together proposals from across Departments to support not only our armed forces and their families, but veterans of current and previous conflicts.
Although it is absolutely right that attention focuses on casualties from current conflicts, we must not forget that our veterans should expect a lifelong commitment from a grateful nation. We should also recognise the work done by service charities, and I wish to place on the record my thanks to the Royal British Legion for highlighting that important area and the need for an armed forces charter.
The House has recognised that many veterans face varied challenges on return from active duty, and the Royal British Legion is right to highlight the fact that returning personnel are more likely to develop psychological symptoms as a result of their experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. This nation has a duty of care to them and their families. Opposition Members have to agree with the legion that the Ministry of Defence needs to introduce more effective prevention and treatment strategies to tackle mental health problems, binge drinking and drug abuse.
As the chairman of the Royal British Legion said recently:
“The legacy of the fiercest fighting since the Second World War will be the nation’s to meet for decades to come… politicians…have a…lifelong duty of care to protect and support veterans and their families. The Military Covenant must be honoured, both for those currently serving and those who have served.”
This House has heard and debated many of the challenges facing our veterans as they return from active service or leave our armed forces. Although we should acknowledge the steps taken by both this and previous Governments, the time has come to place on a statutory footing certain aspects of the welfare provision that should be offered by central and local government, and to take the issue out of party politics.
My right hon. and hon. Friends worked hard in the last Government to improve the standard of accommodation for personnel and their families. Under their plans, 75,000 single-bed spaces will be modernised or upgraded to a higher standard by 2013, and I pay tribute to their efforts in this area. However, there will still be a shortfall of some 35,000 bed spaces that are below the acceptable standard, and it is regrettable that this Government have no plans as yet for the upgrading of 25,000 bed spaces outside the current schedule.
For family homes in the UK, the situation is even worse, according to the Royal British Legion. Of the 50,000 service personnel family homes, two thirds do not meet the Ministry of Defence’s own definition of high quality. Under current plans, it will take 20 years to bring all family accommodation up to the higher standard. We bring forward this Bill today in recognition of the continuing sacrifices made by our brave men and women in the armed forces, and by their families, and in recognition of the fact that our nation must honour its debt of gratitude in a fitting and practical way.
Question put and agreed to.
That Thomas Docherty, Ms Gisela Stuart, Mr Michael McCann, Grahame M. Morris, Mr Ian Davidson, Mr Bob Ainsworth, Hugh Bayley, Ian Murray and Tom Blenkinsop present the Bill.
Thomas Docherty accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 November and to be printed (Bill 104).