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Armed Forces Covenant

Volume 698: debated on Monday 5 July 2021

What steps he is taking to strengthen the armed forces covenant; and if he will make a statement. (902175)

I am proud that we are strengthening the armed forces covenant by enshrining it in law through the Armed Forces Bill and issuing statutory guidance for local authorities in the critical areas of housing, healthcare and education. This milestone Bill will deliver on our duty to our veterans and service people, as they have done on their part.

The Government claim that the Armed Forces Bill will enshrine the armed forces covenant into law, yet there is no responsibility for Government Departments, including the Ministry of Defence, to deliver the covenant. The limited focus on housing, healthcare and education risks creating a two-tier covenant that bakes in the existing postcode lottery on access to services. How will the Minister ensure that we eliminate the postcode lottery that our veterans face in accessing vital services?

That is the whole point of the statutory guidance: to ensure that there is a best practice template that every local authority can follow to ensure that veterans and service people in their locality are in no way disadvantaged.

The armed forces covenant is the debt that this country owes to our servicemen and women who have served our country. One such group, whom I met last week, are the nuclear test veterans. They have suffered from cancers, blood disorders and rare diseases as a result of their service. They have been refused support, recognition, compensation and a medal for their service. Will the Minister for veterans today review the Government’s position on this issue and agree to meet the nuclear veterans?

Historic medallic recognition cases are a matter for the independent Advisory Military Sub-Committee. Last year, it considered the case of nuclear test programme veterans and concluded that it did not meet the necessary criteria. This was not the decision that the campaign groups the hon. Lady mentioned wanted or the families had hoped for. I fully sympathise that they would have wanted a medallic recognition for their loved ones, but it is right and proper that this is an independent process and therefore not for ministerial intervention.