Yesterday, the Armed Forces Bill came before Parliament for its second reading. As a veteran and supporter of the Armed Forces, I was pleased to be able to speak in this debate in support of the Bill.
You can read my contribution here:
As a veteran and an advocate for our armed forces, I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate and to recognise this Conservative Government’s commitment to make the British military the best in the world and to make Britain the best place to be a veteran. I congratulate the Minister on the significant progress that has been made to improve the lived experiences of veterans and their families. I know that his determination to improve their support is matched by the progress he has made on the armed forces covenant.
This Bill enshrines in law the principles of the armed forces covenant. Local authorities will now need to demonstrate due regard to veterans to ensure that the principles of the covenant are upheld. It places a legal duty on councils to meet veterans’ needs, which can now be done in a locally responsive way. Some councils, including Wrexham County Borough Council, have appointed an armed forces champion and are proactive in identifying support services. However, some councils are not so focused, and a requirement in the Bill for councils to appoint a champion would be welcomed.
The scope of the Bill includes housing, health and education. For a veteran living under a devolved Administration, the ownership of these services lies with that Administration—in Wales, with the Welsh Labour Government. However, the Bill does not place a legal duty on the Welsh Government to make them accountable for what they do or do not deliver. The devolved Administrations should be involved, have ownership and be subject to scrutiny on how they support veterans, in line with the legal duty being placed on Welsh local authorities.
There are over 1,800 armed forces charities serving approximately 6.3 million personnel, veterans and families across the UK. A UK-wide charity called Blesma has supported limbless and blinded veterans since world war one. It is quietly doing excellent work. It has highlighted the trouble with veterans receiving timely service when they move between the charitable sector and NHS Wales, specifically around the issue of pain management. Some Welsh veterans find themselves with no other option than to travel from Wales to King Edward VII’s Hospital in London in order to receive adequate pain treatment. Surely this is not acceptable.
The Defence Committee currently has a sub-Committee looking at the experiences of women in the military and female veterans. Evidence sessions are running until Easter, and the Secretary of State for Defence has been supportive in allowing us to engage with serving personnel.
I would like to see more women recruited in our armed forces. Many women have a positive military career and recommend it to others, as do I. However, preliminary findings suggest that six out of 10 women who experience in-service harassment, bullying or intimidation, usually of a sexual nature, do not report their complaint because they have no faith in the service complaints system. They feel that it proves counter-productive to their careers and, in some cases, affects the rest of their civilian lives. This needs to change. The service justice system review—the Lyons review—has made a number of recommendations to improve this area, and I am pleased that they have been integrated within the Bill. However, there is still debate on the
issues of murder, manslaughter and rape, and I take note of clause 7 on concurrent jurisdictions. I know that Ministers are working hard to address certain issues. I look forward to hearing that kit such as body armour will soon be designed to fit women and that the veteran ID cards are on their way, working on the back of the very successful veterans’ railcard.
I support this Bill, which, with the pending integrated review and corresponding defence White Paper, will set out a positive blueprint for our military and veterans, and defence sector, going forward.
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