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Armed Forces Covenant

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:59 pm on 2nd February 2017.

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Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester 2:59 pm, 2nd February 2017

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. There is, of course, a terrorist threat today, but I believe that the atmosphere has changed, and changed for the better.

For me, perhaps the most important aspect of that conference was the reminder that, for all our important work on mental and physical health, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, and about which I shall say more later, most of our service veterans are not needy and suffering, but have benefited greatly from the training, experience and comradeship that service gives them, and are continuing to contribute to our society. Discipline, teamwork, initiative, ingenuity and personal responsibility from a young age are all huge benefits to the community as well as the individual. The report refers to some of the successes of the covenant in business, but I fear that we do not always emphasise sufficiently the contribution of ex-service personnel to society. We must certainly not allow them ever again to be seen as burdens on society.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, there are also health needs to be met. We know that military veterans present with a number of emergent health issues, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and obesity. We also know that the number of veterans who enter the judicial system as a result of violence-related crime associated with significant alcohol abuse is larger than the average. It is clear that a considerable amount of money is allocated to schemes involving the armed forces covenant, but the measurable outcomes of such initiatives are less clear. Covenant grants should, when possible, include measurable outcomes in the applications, and, when appropriate—it could perhaps be said that this is a shameless plug for the university in my constituency —the Government might consider using academic partners to shape the way in which valid and reliable information is collected and subsequently reported. I understand that the MOD covenant is looking at this and has invited expressions of interest, and I welcome that.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed devoted a long section of her speech to service families, which are referred to in chapter 8 of the report, which I welcome. The role of the family can sometimes be overlooked—although clearly not today, thanks to her—when seeking to support our forces and veterans. Any stress on a serviceman or woman also has an impact on their family. As she said, one way of addressing this is to ensure that there is as much stability in family life as possible, with welcoming surroundings—and that stability might also be reflected in retention rates.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire talked about the consensual nature of the debate, but I will now, if I may, depart slightly from that. The Government have decided to sell off the Dale barracks in Chester, which is home to the Mercian Regiment, a successor of the Cheshire Regiment.