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Visits by MPs to Armed Forces Serving Abroad

Volume 580: debated on Monday 12 May 2014

All visit requests from hon. and right hon. Members are considered on a case-by-case basis and accommodated if possible. If an hon. Member wishes to visit our armed forces serving at home or abroad, they should write to my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary giving the purpose of the proposed visit. However, it has been the long-standing policy of the Ministry of Defence, including under the previous Administration, that visits by individual MPs are normally undertaken at their own expense.

Given the concern about the armed forces review and the prospect of many officers, soldiers and so on losing their jobs, is it not important that, under the military covenant, we do everything possible to resettle returning armed forces personnel? In such circumstances, would it not be appropriate for the Ministry of Defence to approach the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to see whether it will include MOD destinations among those designated in Europe for one trip a year by MPs?

May I begin by saying that I have a lot of time for the hon. Lady, having served with her on the Environmental Audit Committee several years ago? I wrote to her in late March about an issue in relation to a visit she had requested, but I am afraid that the position has not changed since then. The funding of individual Members’ travel is ultimately a matter for IPSA. I am willing to talk to IPSA about the matter, but Members will know that I cannot guarantee the outcome.

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, however, who has shown consistent support for the Mercian Regiment and its predecessors, and that has been reflected back to Ministers by the regiment itself.

I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) about the usefulness of hon. Members visiting our armed forces overseas. Does my right hon. Friend the Minister not agree that there is one very useful mechanism for doing so—set up recently with your assistance, Mr Speaker—in the armed forces parliamentary scheme, which was well founded by Sir Neil Thorne and continues. I hope that all hon. Members will consider joining that excellent organisation.

I am very happy, without recourse to IPSA, to pay tribute to the armed forces parliamentary scheme and the valuable work that it does in assisting Members of Parliament, particularly those who do not have previous military experience, to understand better the wonderful work that our armed forces do on our behalf. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his work to update and upgrade the AFPS to ensure that it remains fit for the 21st century.

I will certainly raise the issue on our IPSA liaison committee, but can the Minister think of any other parliamentary fees office anywhere in Europe that would be, frankly, so mean and short-sighted as not to fund Members of Parliament to visit their armed forces abroad? That is so typical of IPSA. I very much hope that the whole House will join the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) in her campaign.

I understand the point that my hon. Friend is seeking to make. In fairness, neither I nor my ministerial colleagues are responsible for the decisions of IPSA. It sounds as if he is about to launch something of a flanking attack. If he does so, I suspect that some Members of the House may come to his aid.