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Support for Veterans

Volume 657: debated on Monday 25 March 2019

I am sure they are all very genuine. The support we provide our veterans is a genuine subject. We owe our veterans a huge debt of gratitude, but it is important that that gratitude is reflected in the practical support we provide. That is exactly why we are investing in a new veterans strategy, which will be fundamental to improving the co-ordination of that support.

It has been gently pointed out to me—not that one wishes to be pedantic, merely correct—that one might not be able to pair something, particularly when there are four. A grouping, on the other hand, is perfectly orderly. Mr Merriman, let us hear it man.

We were waiting for you to finish, Mr Speaker. [Laughter.] I know my place.

I thank the Minister for his answer. The charity sector plays an amazing role in enhancing support for veterans. What engagement has the Minister had with that sector?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. It is so important that we engage as much as we possibly can. There are over 400 service-facing charities. They are co-ordinated by the Veterans’ Gateway and Cobseo, forming themselves into clusters so we can provide the necessary support in the various areas required. Every second Monday, the Defence Secretary and I meet people from the charity sector. In the coming weeks, we will be meeting charities based specifically in the arts.

Recently, a monthly drop-in service has been established at Crawley library for veterans to get advice on the services supported by the Royal British Legion and SSAFA, among others. May I have a commitment from the Ministry of Defence that it will continue to work with the voluntary sector, which provides such fantastic support?

My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary underlined the importance of geographically locally based charities. It is so important that the message gets out that support is available to veterans. The biggest challenge we face is veterans not being aware of where to go for help, so I am very grateful for that work in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Veterans in Hull are very fortunate to have the support of incredible people like Steve from Hull Veterans Support Centre and Paul from Hull 4 Heroes. There is an ambitious plan to build a veterans village in Hull. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the best way that he can support it?

I am always delighted to meet hon. Members who want to pursue and support veterans’ initiatives. I would be delighted to visit. My mother-in-law lives just down the road from Hull, in Beverley, so perhaps I can tie in the two visits in one go.

Some 60,000 armed forces veterans are currently suffering mental health problems, in prison or homeless. What more support can be given to personnel as they leave the armed forces to help reduce that number in future?

My hon. Friend is right to focus on specific issues where we need to increase our support. One reason why we are putting together the veterans strategy is to understand where we can do more. The prison sector is one area. She touches on the transition process. It is so important that as people depart the armed forces they know where help can be provided. We are now getting back in touch with armed forces personnel and their families 12 months after they have departed to check on their progress.

Ubi-tech is a business in my constituency made up completely of ex-service people. It is expanding fast and provides services to the MOD and others. It also provides resettlement training and is a supporter of the armed forces covenant. Given that, does the Minister agree that it is not surprising that the business regards the decision to prosecute soldier F after 47 years with absolute dismay? How does the Minister respond to that?

The Northern Ireland prosecution service made an independent judgment on that. I think it would be wrong for us to make any judgment on the Government side. What my hon. Friend illustrates is another great example of veterans charities doing fantastic work on a local basis, and if there is an opportunity to visit her constituency, I would be delighted to meet it.

On return from his tour of Afghanistan in 2007, my constituent, Robert Duncan, experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. It has taken this long to have a conversation—that is all he wants—with those under whom he served. Why can he not have that conversation?

I do not know the circumstances of that particular case and I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to see what more can be done. As I touched on before, we are now far more engaged with the individuals—all service personnel—who served in Afghanistan and Iraq to track their progress and to make sure that we are in touch to give them the support that they need. If there is a case for an individual to be looked at again, I would be more than happy to do that.

While we know that the charity sector is doing a great deal of work, and we are extremely grateful for that, there is an absence of veterans-focused policies in areas such as welfare and employability. The transition to civilian life can be difficult, so does the Minister agree that the Government must be doing more in this area?

I am pleased that the hon. Lady mentioned that the Government must be doing more. That is absolutely correct. The veterans board was established for exactly this mission—to make sure that it is not just the MOD that does its bit, but that all Government Departments recognise their duty to honour the covenant to ensure that they provide the support that we need to give our brave veterans.

We now come to Question 5. [Interruption.] I beg your pardon, Mr Hamilton wanted to come in on this question. [Interruption.] We do like him, but whether we like him or not, he has a right to be heard.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for intervening before he had the chance to ask his question. At Defence questions on 18 February, I asked the Minister about the black soldiers of the East Africa Force, formed in 1940, after an investigation revealed that they were paid only a third of the wage received by their white counterparts. On 13 February, Her Majesty’s Opposition wrote to the Government about this issue and I wrote to the Minister on 28 February, but so far no replies have been received. The Foreign Office claims that this is a matter for the Ministry of Defence, but the Minister told the House last month that this was a matter for the Foreign Office. Will he please confirm that it is in fact his Department’s responsibility, and may I ask him again when the East Africa Force veterans and their families might expect, at the very least, an official apology and compensation for this scandal?

Perhaps it does feel like we are living an episode of “Yes Minister”, and I fully understand that, with Departments trying to establish who has responsibility. We need to iron that out, and we absolutely need to get the answers that the hon. Gentleman deserves. Perhaps I can speak with him afterwards and we can move this issue forward.