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Armed Forces: Personnel

Volume 715: debated on Thursday 19 November 2009


My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Bob Ainsworth) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing the publication of the first annual report on the service personnel Command Paper, The Nation’s Commitment: Cross-Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans. Copies are being placed in the Library of the House.

Our forces personnel are prepared to put their lives on the line in service of the country. They willingly accept restrictions to their lifestyle and the unique conditions of service that are required to do the job. But on becoming service personnel, they have not ceased to be citizens. Government have a moral obligation to ensure they are not disadvantaged as citizens by service life. The service personnel Command Paper was about meeting that obligation.

The measures we set out last year were well received by the services, by veterans’ groups and by the public at large. But we are determined to ensure that the commitment set out in that paper does not fade. One of the steps we took was to ask our External Reference Group (ERG) to monitor delivery, and to report annually. It is the first of these reports which is being published today.

The report charts the progress that has been made including the delivery of significant improvements in a number of areas. For example, we have doubled the compensation paid for the most serious injuries; extended eligibility to affordable housing schemes; opened up access to free further education for service leavers; improved the immigration arrangements for families of foreign and Commonwealth personnel; and taken steps to ensure that service families retain their places on NHS waiting lists when they move. Other measures will be delivered in the coming months, such as the MoD’s affordable home ownership pilot scheme. The report also highlights areas where we may need to do more, such as ensuring that veterans receive priority treatment under the NHS when entitled to it, and that childcare arrangements meet the requirements of service families. The Government will be following up the valuable points made in the report, for example by taking further steps to raise awareness of veterans’ needs among GPs, and pressing on generally with implementation of the measures announced last year. Our commitment continues undiminished.

The ERG brings together representatives from a wide range of government departments and the devolved Administrations, with leading charities and the service families’ federations. It offers a unique perspective on how well we are doing, and I am very grateful to its members. This report shows how the dialogue between government and the third sector on how best to support the Armed Forces community has grown and developed over the past year. That relationship, and its continued improvement, is very important to us. I look forward to the ERG’s future reports as further progress is made in this vital work.

I commend to the House this annual report on the nation’s commitment to the Armed Forces community.