My Lords, I start, of course, by thanking all those who have been involved in ensuring the passage of this Bill. In particular, I thank my friend Robin Millar, who ensured its successful navigation through the House of Commons, my noble friend the Minister for her support, and my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough for his support on Report. Equally, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this Bill during its passage and for ensuring that it has had cross-party consent throughout. I also thank the Minister’s Bill team in the Ministry of Defence, in particular, Gail Wilson and Smita Mehta, who have been so wonderful in supporting me. I of course also thank the Public Bill Office and the Lords Clerk.
I say a couple of words in tribute to the volunteers of the Veterans Advisory Pension Committees, because it is they who have campaigned long and hard for these changes to be made. Indeed, it is nearly seven years since I was first approached by committee members during my time as an MoD Minister; they were frustrated that their terms of reference and mandate limited what they could do to support our veterans on those committees. When they were originally set up, they were allowed only to advise veterans on pensions and the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme. As noble Lords know, this Bill extends that mandate effectively to mirror all aspects of the Armed Forces Covenant, not only to veterans but to veterans’ families. This is a modest Bill, but another small step in trying to ensure that the United Kingdom is the best place to be a veteran.
My Lords, the committees have exceeded their formal brief for a number of years, which has turned out to be a good thing. That has been partly regularised by terms of reference, but the Bill makes the whole thing formal. Since a good thing is being made formal, we are in full support.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for supporting this important piece of legislation. It will enhance the statutory footing of the Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees. It has been a great pleasure to support the Bill through this House. I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Lancaster for bringing the Bill to this stage with his trademark knowledge, expertise and passion.
This Bill delivers on the MoD commitment to strengthen the legislation around the VAPCs, putting them on a more stable basis for the 21st century. The Bill will ensure that the VAPCs can continue to support veterans and their families in a way that aligns with the wider veterans’ welfare support system and enhances the quality of the services that they are offered. The inclusion of the VAPCs in the recently published Independent Review of UK Government Welfare Services for Veterans will ensure clarity on how these committees can evolve to support veterans’ welfare services, underlining the work that these volunteers undertake for veterans all across the UK. The Government’s response to this report will be published later this year.
I echo my noble friend Lord Lancaster in paying tribute to these dedicated volunteers for their commitment to and support for our veterans. I thank your Lordships for the strong cross-party support for the Bill in this place, and to Members of the other place for their similar support. I also place on record my thanks to my honourable friend Robin Millar for expertly steering the Bill through the other place and to my right honourable friend and colleague Andrew Murrison, the Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families, who has done so much of the heavy lifting on this Bill.
This Bill sends an important message about the UK Government’s commitment to our Armed Forces and veterans. We are united in our admiration and our desire to support our Armed Forces community, from our current serving personnel to the veterans, whose days of active service may have passed, but whose contribution remains treasured, and to the families, whose unstinting support is the foundation of their success. I pay tribute to all of our Armed Forces and their families. Ultimately, this Bill is for them. I commend this Bill to the House.