The Ministry of Defence was delighted to support the Royal British Legion’s poppy appeal, in its 100th anniversary year. Members of all three services took part in Poppy Day activities the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, selling poppies and collecting donations. I was delighted that all the members of the ministerial team were able to join in acts of remembrance throughout the weekend, demonstrating the central and cherished role of remembrance in our national life.
Will the Minister join me in thanking and congratulating the many volunteers, organisations and veterans across Clwyd South who have worked so hard to raise money for the poppy appeal, including Broughton community council, whose act of remembrance I had the honour of attending yesterday, laying a wreath at Brynteg Memorial Hall?
The fantastic work of the poppy appeal, which raises millions every year for our veterans, is only possible thanks to the hard work of the volunteers and armed forces who take part, giving up their time to ensure that the Royal British Legion’s fundraising efforts succeed. Will the Minister join me in thanking the volunteers and organisers of the Bedworth Armistice Day parade in my constituency, chaired by Ken Whitehead? It celebrated its centenary this year, being the only parade outside London to have taken place every year on 11 November.
My hon. Friend is right to refer to the central role of the Royal British Legion volunteers. They are a magnificent bunch of people, and I particularly commend Ken Whitehead and all the Bedworth Armistice Day team. I also want to record my thanks for all my hon. Friend’s work to support our veterans and forces people in his constituency.
I thank the many Carshalton and Wallington residents who volunteered to raise money for the poppy appeal this year. The appeal helps to fund the Royal British Legion’s work in raising funds for the armed forces covenant, providing support for thousands of service people and their families. What consideration has the Minister given to the Legion’s recent report on the impact of the covenant over the last 10 years?
I have given deep consideration to that excellent report, which I think is a hugely important piece of work. We have come a very long way in the last 10 years, but there is still more to do, and that is why we are putting the covenant into law in the Armed Forces Bill.
Over the past couple of weeks, people across Keighley and Ilkley have been working hard to raise funds for our veterans through the poppy appeal, including Jackie McGinnis and her team at the Keighley branch of the Royal British Legion. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking all my constituents who have worked so incredibly hard to raise money for the appeal, and use this opportunity to reiterate the importance of such funds being raised throughout the calendar year?
I absolutely join my hon. Friend in thanking Jackie McGinnis and the Keighley branch of the Royal British Legion. They have done terrifically good work. It is indeed an all-year-round challenge, and that is why we are pleased to have invested £25 million this year in third sector charities that support our veterans and armed forces. I am very grateful for the work that my hon. Friend continues to do in his constituency.
I speak as a great admirer of the poppy appeal. However, when the Minister next meets the national leadership of the Royal British Legion, will he point out that effectively closing down a branch and expelling its officers, as they have done in Leyton, is not the best way to promote the appeal, and nor is sealing and shutting the building so that its members have no access, and removing the base for the appeal in years to come?
I had a friend who signed up at the age of 16 and served for eight years in the Balkans, Northern Ireland and the first Gulf war. About 10 days ago we lost him, after he had battled with mental ill health for perhaps 20 years. The Government talk a great deal about the programmes to help veterans with their mental health, but there does not seem to be anyone who is really reaching out to them. I wonder whether, through the poppy appeal and the Royal British Legion, more could be done to try to reach out to veterans so that they do not feel cast adrift once they leave the services.
I entirely agree with the sentiment expressed by the hon. Lady. We are trying harder than ever before and investing a huge amount of money in Op Courage, which is the bespoke mental health pathway for veterans in the national health service, but really this is about a broader challenge of reducing the stigma of mental health challenges. That is why we are ensuring that, during the time people serve in the armed forces, they see it as their professional responsibility to see mental good health as a question of resilience and capability, not something of which to be ashamed.
This Remembrance Sunday was the first time that LGBT veterans were invited to lay a wreath openly at the Cenotaph. While the route to equality is something we all welcome, can the Minister detail the steps the Government are taking to provide compensation to all LGBT veterans who suffered a loss of earnings and pension as a result of the historical ban?
I am pleased to be able to put on record my acknowledgement of the injustice suffered by gay people who were unjustly thrown out of the military. I have met Fighting With Pride and others, and we are doing good work on this, which will be formally announced as part of a review. I hope to be able to provide further details to the House in the coming weeks.
Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory in Edinburgh has been in operation since 1926, employing ex-soldiers since the very beginning. Over the years it has grown considerably, and now it employs 41 veterans. Will the Minister join me in thanking them for their hard work and dedication in making beautiful poppy wreaths, and encourage other organisations to support veteran employability in the same way?
I am delighted to put on record my thanks to the Poppy Factory, which I have visited: it does magnificent work, and the wreaths it creates are a moving and important part of the Festival of Remembrance. I am also grateful that the hon. Lady picked up the theme of employability, because we will focus explicitly on that in the forthcoming veterans strategy.
As you know, Mr Speaker, the Royal British Legion and the poppy appeal have supported veterans over the decades and over a number of conflicts, not least the Falklands campaign, which my constituency has such strong links with. Can the Minister talk a little about plans to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Falklands campaign next year?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is of particular interest, because my Aldershot constituency was formerly the home of the Parachute Regiment and one of my first engagements as a new MP was to attend the 35th anniversary of Op Corporate. There are significant plans under way, and I look forward to sharing those with her and her Gosport constituents in due course.