I recently met two sisters of Captain Daniel Read, who recently died in Afghanistan. They were incredibly supportive of the family liaison unit that was given the difficult task of letting the next of kin—in this case, his wife—know of his passing. They made the proactive and sensible suggestion that the next of kin should extend to the parents, particularly when the soldier is incredibly young. I would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman commented on whether we could extend the duty of the family liaison officer to informing the parents too.
— from debate entitled “Support for UK Armed Forces and Veterans”
The three speeches/headings immediately before
- 1 earlier: Jeffrey M Donaldson
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. He has always been a Member of this House who has maintained a close interest in Northern Ireland. He has been very supportive, over many years, of the work of our armed forces in helping to secure peace in the part of the United Kingdom represented by my party.
My party recognises the pressures that the current operational commitments in Afghanistan put our armed forces under and the accompanying pressures on the welfare system; the more casualties there are, the more difficult it is to meet the demands and the needs arising from them. In addition, the social dynamic is changing; military families and their way of life are changing. They desire home ownership, educational stability for children, and employment opportunities for spouses and partners. Those factors all need to be taken into account in designing the welfare and support mechanisms put in place for our armed forces. Just because things were done in a certain way in the past, that does not mean that they cannot be adapted to suit the circumstances of the 21st century, and that is important.
The need to care for and support people who have been bereaved through the loss of a loved one remains an absolute priority. Just before the general election, I brought one of my constituents, Mrs Brenda Hale, to meet the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth). Brenda lost her husband, Captain Mark Hale, who was serving in the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, based in Ballykinler in County Down. A very courageous man, Captain Hale had been out on patrol with his soldiers and three of them had been injured by an improvised explosive device. He went back from the helicopter pick-up point to collect the third soldier and as he did so a fellow soldier, Rifleman Daniel Wild, accidentally stepped on another IED and, sadly, that resulted in the loss of the lives of Captain Mark Hale and Rifleman Wild.
Brenda wanted to discuss with the then Secretary of State the manner in which key elements of the support mechanisms put in place to help her as a widow had absolutely failed and, indeed, had added to her difficulty at a time of grief. I commend the right hon. Member for Coventry North East for his approach to Mrs Hale and the offer he made to review the support mechanisms in place for those who lose a loved one on active service. I am sure that the current Secretary of State will carry through that commitment as part of the writing of the military covenant. It is essential that families who lose a loved one in combat are given appropriate care and support when they need it and that the level of support is consistent with the commitments offered through the military covenant.
- 2 earlier: William Cash
As one whose father was killed in the last war—I am one of the few Members of this House in that position—may I say that I thoroughly endorse every word of the motion and, if there is any need to do so, I shall emphatically vote for it?
- 3 earlier: Jeffrey M Donaldson
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I know he takes a very keen interest in our armed forces, especially in those in his Colchester constituency. He is absolutely right about the role of the reserves from the medical profession. As a result of the troubles, members of the medical profession from Northern Ireland have over the years gained expertise in dealing with casualties in conflict situations, and especially in the consequences of explosive devices. One thinks of the medical staff at the Royal Victoria hospital, Belfast city hospital and other medical establishments in Northern Ireland. Encouragingly, as well as working in the medical profession, some of those people give up their time in the reserves, not only at weekends to provide training for other reservists, but to go to places such as Afghanistan to provide their expertise to help those who are, sadly, injured, many of them seriously. The first time I visited Camp Bastion I met some of the medical reservists working at its excellent hospital facility. They are treating not only service personnel but Afghan civilians injured by improvised explosive devices and gunshot wounds. I commend, as the hon. Gentleman did, the work of our reservists from the medical profession, who give their time and commitment, and are worthy of continuing support. I know that the review of the reserves will touch on this area and I am sure that the Secretary of State will wish to examine that aspect carefully.
On behalf of my colleagues, may I also pay tribute to all the members of the armed forces who have served over the years in Northern Ireland? We recognise the huge sacrifice that was made by the armed forces in seeking to protect the entire community in Northern Ireland from terrorism—the cost was very high indeed. One thinks of atrocities such as the Narrow Water bomb at Warrenpoint, and the Droppin’ Well bomb. I know that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) is very familiar with the latter atrocity as he was the commanding officer at the time and lost some of his soldiers in it. Indeed, he told me rather movingly, as we served together on the Defence Committee, about how one of the young women killed in that explosion died in his arms as he sought to comfort her in her final moments. We do not forget that sacrifice and we do well to honour those who did so much to help bring the relative degree of peace that we enjoy in Northern Ireland today. But for their commitment, their service and their sacrifice, the people of Northern Ireland would not be enjoying the progress that has been made, and that should never be forgotten.
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