Armed Forces Bill

Part of Wilson Doctrine – in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 15th October 2015.

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Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Defence) 12:30 pm, 15th October 2015

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. To respond very briefly, I refer Mr Gray to the White Paper published before the referendum. Everything would be contained therein. The Scottish National party is quite clear about its paramount commitment to conventional defences. We would thus obviously invest in such defences.

I shall take your advice, Mr Deputy Speaker, and perhaps not engage further, other than to say that we shall support the Bill as it makes its way through Committee. Most notably, at the 2015 general election, the SNP was the only party to make a commitment to providing a statutory footing for a British Armed Forces Federation. We would like to introduce such provisions into the Bill in Committee. There is, of course, already an established British Armed Forces Federation, which provides a professional, independent and apolitical voice for service personnel. The BAFF is, in its own words,

“a specifically British solution for the British Armed Forces”,

which campaigns on range of issues such as armed forces housing, compensation and improved medical care for veterans.

Veterans’ mental health is particularly important. I recommend anyone attending last night’s Adjournment debate—and those who did not attend it—to get hold of the Hansard and read the fantastic contribution from my hon. Friend Dr Cameron, ably supported by Johnny Mercer. This was a learned and informed debate—a shining example, I believe, of this House at its best.

If the BAFF were given statutory status, it would be a far more robust organisation in providing legal advice, aid for the writing of wills, anti-bullying advice, grievance reporting and, of course, aid to those with mental health problems. The idea of having an armed forces federation is not new and it is not radical. Indeed, there are several such federations operating extremely well within the armed forces of many of our NATO allies. Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Germany and Hungary all have armed forces federations, while there are also recognised and functioning armed forces federations in Australia and, closer to home, in Ireland. I firmly believe that a mature and responsible military such as that of the United Kingdom has nothing to fear from an armed forces federation.

As I said elsewhere, it should be seen as complementary rather than in opposition to the chain of command. A federation would not impinge in any way on the chain of command, but would rather give support to service personnel and their families—and, of course, to our veterans, to whom we all have a duty of care. If a federation works well for the police force, surely it is wholly appropriate that we extend the same right to our military personnel, who put their lives on the line every time they go on duty.

In conclusion, we support the Bill and will continue to support it, but we will go through it, as the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood said, line by line to make sure that the Bill will be the best that it can be. Our service personnel deserve no less.