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Armed Forces Covenant

Volume 588: debated on Monday 24 November 2014

In addition to doing the right thing by our war widows, I am pleased to report that 3,222 applications to the Forces Help to Buy scheme have been approved, and 1,864 service personnel have received funding totalling about £28 million.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is encouraging that all local authorities and a growing number of companies have signed up to support the covenant? Does she further agree that the challenge now is to get those commitments turned into action?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend and I thank her for that supplementary question. I am in the process of writing to the chief executive and leader of every local authority because, as we know, most services are delivered locally. This is not about money. It is about putting into action everything that they have signed up to. There is a great deal of work that local MPs can do to make sure that local authorities have a forces champion and that they are delivering on the covenant.

The Minister is well aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and I have been raising the case of the late Corporal McLaughlin, who lost his life in the Falklands in 1982. We recently discussed this matter during a constructive Westminster Hall debate. Yesterday The Mail on Sunday reported that the MOD will make rigorous and extensive inquiries into this case on behalf of his family. I welcome that, if it is correct. Can the Minister confirm that that is the case and say what form those inquiries will take?

I can confirm that. I pay tribute to Corporal McLaughlin, who was undoubtedly incredibly brave. What he did in the Falkland Islands was remarkable. I pay tribute to the debate that we had last week. I have met Lord Astor, who is the Minister responsible for medals. We had an exceptionally good meeting and there will indeed be such an investigation. We will report that accordingly.

20. I represent many constituents who work and do great service at DMS Whittington. They and I are fully aware which Government enshrined the armed forces covenant in law. Will my hon. Friend continue to build on the covenant to ensure that our armed forces get the best clinical staff and clinical support, as they deserve? (906197)

Absolutely. It was a great pleasure to go to DMS Whittington back in October. This is where we now have to do the work—it is going to be quite difficult, because we have to get the message out right across the NHS that there should be no disadvantage to those who have served and that, in special circumstances, they should receive special consideration, based on bereavement and particularly bad injuries. GPs and all health professionals must be alert to that. We all have a role to play in making sure that in the NHS we deliver on the armed forces covenant.

Two weeks ago I met a veteran in Preston who was injured in service and now uses a prosthetic leg. He is being treated in a regular NHS clinic, not in the specialist veterans prosthetics centre in Preston. He wants to know why, and so do I. The Minister reportedly says that her job is not demanding. When will she start doing it properly and make sure that there is some connection between what she says at the Dispatch Box and the treatment that our veterans actually get?

I assure the hon. Lady that I never said any such thing. It is an absolute pleasure and a great honour to do the job that I do, and I like to think that I do it with total commitment. I, too, want to know why that man has not received the treatment he says he should have received, and I should be grateful if the hon. Lady met me so that we can discuss why that is. I have no difficulty whatsoever in taking up every single case and asking the questions. It was a challenge I threw down to the BBC; I said, “I want to know the names and I want to help.” I am waiting to hear of any of those details. I look forward to the hon. Lady’s supplying me with the details relating to her constituent; we will get it sorted.

The armed forces covenant had all-party support, and we should remember that. The Minister referred to local government. Can she give an assurance that all Government Departments are signed up to the covenant, and particularly the Department of Health regarding general practitioners, veterans and hearing loss?

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and good point. He has asked a couple of questions in one, and I hope to answer them as fully as I can. It is delivery that is important, which means that all our Departments have to sign up to it, but of course, they can play a part in delivering the corporate covenant as well. However, there is more that we can do, and we have to get the message out across the NHS and through the devolved Administrations. If we all do that—if I may say, working together to ensure that—we can absolutely deliver on the covenant in the way we want.

Does the covenant offer an opportunity for local and national Government to respond to my constituent Sue MacLean’s campaign to ensure that veterans who pass away without anyone to deal with their affairs have something more than a pauper’s funeral to recognise their passing?

I am more than happy to discuss this with the hon. Gentleman. We know that our forces charities play such an incredibly important part in the welfare of and assistance given not only to those who serve, but to veterans. We have a fabulous system in this country of which we should be proud.