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Armed Forces Covenant

Volume 634: debated on Monday 15 January 2018

The Ministry of Defence published the armed forces covenant annual report in December 2017, which outlined the progress made to strengthen the covenant. Notable achievements include the establishment of a new ministerial covenant and veterans board, which had its first meeting in October 2017. The next ministerial covenant and veterans board meeting is due in the spring.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Before Christmas, I visited the Community Awareness Project in Wakefield, and many of its homeless clients are former armed services personnel. The Veterans Association UK estimates that there are 13,000 homeless veterans. They are guaranteed priority access to social housing under the armed forces covenant, but it is impossible to know that unless they are counted in the census. Will he commit—here, today—to count armed forces personnel and veterans in the census, as recommended by the Office for National Statistics?

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what his Department is doing to support wonderful local charities, such as the Leigh-on-Sea branch of the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes, in helping veterans to tackle isolation and loneliness?

The point my hon. Friend raises is very valuable. We have to be reaching out to so many veterans, who have given so much to our country over so many years, and the work of Help for Heroes and the Leigh-on-Sea branch of the Royal British Legion is absolutely pivotal to that. We have recently seen investment of £2 million to create the veterans’ gateway, which is there to make sure that veterans are signposted to the charities, support organisations and of course Government organisations that can best support them if they are suffering from loneliness or need other additional help. May I take this opportunity to thank the Royal British Legion—at Leigh-on-Sea and at so many other branches across the country—which continues to do so much for our veterans, day in and day out?

The armed forces covenant is currently more of a statement of intent than a statement of action, and it does not guarantee the support that serving personnel and veterans require. Does the Secretary of State agree that putting an armed forces representative body on a statutory footing would be a bold commitment to ensure proper representation of personnel and veterans?

What we have done is to create the veterans board. It was previously co-chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and me, and it will now be co-chaired by me and the Minister for the Cabinet Office. We have found that the feedback about what we have been doing and trying to achieve in creating the board has been very positive. This is about not just the Ministry of Defence, but every Department, every local authority in the country and businesses helping and supporting our veterans and our service personnel.

Housing regularly tops the list of concerns expressed by the Army Families Federation, as my right hon. Friend will know. Since 2014, CarillionAmey has been responsible for 50,000 service homes, and its website boasts that 1,500 calls are taken from concerned service families every day. What will he do, given that Carillion is about to collapse, to ensure that those calls are responded to appropriately in the immediate term and that service housing is dealt with in the longer term?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. There were some problems, and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), has done an awful lot of work with CarillionAmey to tackle these issues. We will be making every effort to ensure that the accommodation provided by the partners with which we work and from which our service personnel benefit is of the highest standards.

Housing for our armed forces families is indeed an important part of the covenant. I recognise that CarillionAmey is a separate entity from the parent company, Carillion, but, given the concerns about its capacity and performance and today’s worrying news, what contingency plans does the Minister have in the event of unforeseen knock-on effects on armed forces housing?

I assure the House that we have been monitoring the situation closely and working with our industrial partners. There will be a Cobra meeting later today to discuss addressing some of the most immediate issues, and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East, will do what he can, working with Amey and the separate business, to make sure that standards are driven up and no one notices a fall in service.