Veterans Day

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 3rd March 2008.

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Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of Royal Air Force Sergeant Duane "Baz" Barwood, who died in Iraq on Friday 29 February. We owe him and others who have lost their lives a deep debt of gratitude.

The third annual Veterans day will take place on 27 June 2008, and we have allocated £350,000 to support events across the UK. In January, I announced that Blackpool will host this year's national event. To date, more than 80 UK towns and cities will host major events to celebrate the achievements of the country's veterans, and we expect many more to do so. We are also working to ensure the effective involvement of ex-service organisations and service units.

Photo of David Wright David Wright PPS (Rt Hon Jane Kennedy, Financial Secretary), HM Treasury

The whole House associates itself with the Minister's remarks about Sergeant Barwood, who give his life serving our country. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.

Given that the Government are considering options for another bank holiday, is it not time that Veterans day was a bank holiday?

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

I am sure that there will be a lot of support for that, particularly in the veterans community. As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, the decision is not mine to take, but many veterans have pressed that case and I am sure that they will continue to do so. As Minister with responsibility for veterans, I am the voice for veterans in government, and it is important to make sure that everyone is aware of veterans' views on that issue.

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QUOTE:- As Minister with responsibility for veterans, I am the voice for veterans in government, and it is important to make sure that everyone is aware of veterans' views on that issue. UNQUOTE. Will Mr Twigg also ensure that those who are fighting for the right...

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Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Shadow Minister (Health)

As we think about Veterans day, can we consider some of the veterans who did not return home, in particular Captain Robert Nairac of 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, whose body has never been found following his service in Northern Ireland? Is there any news on Captain Nairac's body?

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

I do not have any news, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman after I have returned to the Ministry of Defence and found out any further information.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the first world war armistice, of which there are a few veterans still alive. Will the Minister say how we will commemorate that occasion, bearing in mind that it was a seminal moment socially, politically and militarily for our country and, indeed, for Europe?

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of that moment. My grandfather fought in the first world war, and I am particularly proud of his record—of course, the first world war touched nearly every family in the country. As my hon. Friend knows, we intend to hold a significant event when the passing of the last world war one veteran takes place. He is right to say that we need to do something this year to mark the 90th anniversary, and I will set out more detail for the House at a future date. At the moment, we plan to hold an event around remembrance week. It is also possible that there will be an event in France, and I will discuss that issue with the French Defence Minister.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

Although I acknowledge other hon. Members' contributions on particular veterans' issues, I want to stress the importance of ensuring that there is a memorial to Sir Keith Park in Trafalgar square, which is in my constituency. There will be a campaign on Sir Keith Park, Bomber Command and the battle of Britain, and although I do not expect a positive answer from the Minister at this juncture, I have put the matter on the record.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

As my hon. Friend rightly points out from a sedentary position, the campaign concerns Fighter Command. The Minister should give some credence to that campaign in the months and years ahead.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there is a great deal of support for that campaign. However, there are many campaigns for different memorials to various acts of heroism and service. He will also know that memorials are usually funded by public subscription, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment at this stage. However, I understand the sentiment that the hon. Gentleman has expressed; I can only praise all those who served in Bomber Command, the rest of the Air Force and the other services during the second and first world wars.

Photo of Jim Devine Jim Devine Labour, Livingston

John Patterson is a local hero in my constituency. He flew more than 32 bombing raids into Berlin and ended the war flying Field Marshal Montgomery throughout Africa. As a result of publicity, he met a comrade whom he had not seen for 62 years. Will my hon. Friend consider producing a special magazine that contains the names of all the people who have received a veterans badge so that they can get in contact with old comrades?

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

I have to be candid with my hon. Friend and say that I had not thought about that until now. I shall certainly have a look at the idea. About 550,000 veterans badges have now been given out and the practice is becoming ever more popular. I do not know whether we can do anything along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend, but I shall write to him.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Defence)

We Conservatives wish to be associated with the Minister's message of condolence to the family of Sergeant Duane Barwood, who died serving our country.

Parades and badges are important, but veterans are also looking for a more tangible recognition of their service and sacrifice. Will the Minister use the opportunity of Veterans day to announce, first, his plans to remedy the shortcomings in the management of post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans, highlighted last month by the Defence Committee? Secondly, will he announce his plans for ensuring that there is continuity of care throughout the UK for amputees who leave the defence services rehabilitation centre at Headley Court and become reliant on NHS limb centres, which are not as well resourced and may very well have competing clinical priorities?

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have made a number of announcements about PTSD in the past few months. He has visited the medical assessment centre at St. Thomas's—people can go there to get a mental health assessment, support and help to link in with that from their general practitioner. We have also announced the reservists mental health scheme and a 45 per cent. increase in funding for Combat Stress from January this year.

There is also an important new project, in which the Ministry of Defence will work with Combat Stress and the health service to develop specific pilots to address the mental health problems of veterans. Clearly, that is still at an early stage. We will continue to consider what more we can do to improve support for veterans. Given that we have much better knowledge of PTSD and mental health these days, I suspect that we can always do more.

It is important that we understand that the quality of the prosthetic limbs that our service people get at Headley Court is world class. If they have to leave the services, such people will obviously come under the care of the national health service. It is important that we have a system that will maintain that standard of prosthetic limb. That is why we are working with the national health service and talking to a number of health trusts about how we can provide such a service.