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Military Veterans

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2015

The Government are determined to help all offenders, including ex-armed forces personnel who enter the criminal justice system, to turn their lives around and move away from crime. I was surprised, when I took over as Veterans Minister, to learn that we were not asking prisoners when they came in whether they had served in Her Majesty’s armed forces. We are now doing that when they enter the criminal justice system, so we know better how to help them.

The vast majority of military personnel successfully transition back into civilian life, having left the armed forces. However, veterans represent the largest single cohort in our prisons. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the excellent work of Care After Combat, whose Phoenix project aims to reduce reoffending rates by mentoring veterans both in prison and on release?

I would like to take this opportunity to praise all those in the voluntary sector who help in the criminal justice system for the work they do, particularly for veterans. The Phoenix project, piloted in February last year by Care After Combat, seems to be very successful. We look forward to seeing exactly what is going on, but it was successful in getting £1 million from the LIBOR fund in the autumn statement and I wish it every success.

With the Ministry of Defence, will the Minister look at what the stresses are when members of the military leave the armed forces, so we can help to reduce reoffending in the first place, rather than just dealing with it in prison? Will he undertake this important task to identify those causes?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good and important point. As someone who served in the armed forces but left fairly early on—I did not do 22 years—I found that the support was very minimal. We need to make sure that we support our heroes, who have fought for us, in a way that keeps them out of the criminal justice system and gives them the help they need.

On a similar note, will the Secretary of State for Justice work with the Secretary of State for Defence and the Ministry of Defence to review the transition process, so that we really understand why so many veterans are going to prison?

The Government brought in the Act establishing the military covenant to deal with exactly this sort of situation. I have the honour and privilege of sitting on the Prime Minister’s military covenant committee, where such discussions take place regularly.