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Armed Forces Covenant

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:47 pm on 2nd February 2017.

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Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector) 3:47 pm, 2nd February 2017

I congratulate Mrs Trevelyan on bringing this debate to the Floor of the House. She is to be commended on that and on her commitment to the armed forces.

I am a great believer in the idea that the armed forces must be rooted in, and reflect, the society they serve and defend. I commend the hon.—and gallant—Member for Canterbury (Sir Julian Brazier) for raising the issue of making sure that our armed forces reflect the society they serve by living in it and not just in bespoke military hubs.

In their domestic lives, service personnel have similar problems to the rest of society, but we must recognise that they also face unique challenges. The Minister will be aware that I have raised issues on the Floor of the House in relation to children, veterans and carers, as well as pre-deployment and the length of deployment.

However, that does not mean that challenges do not remain. In terms of the report and the general debate, I am astonished to see the difficulties that veterans still face in accessing medical care. While there have been obvious improvements, work remains to be done across the whole United Kingdom—for example, in ensuring a better transition into civilian life for veterans by ensuring that service GPs can share their expertise across the NHS, which we have discussed on the Floor of the House on many occasions. Critically, in Scotland and across the UK there are differing NHS structures. Local provision in Scotland is made through community planning partnerships, where a whole range of partners get around the table. The discussion of the impact of service life in community planning partnerships does not seem to be having any influence.

In housing, there are problems with CarillionAmey providing service accommodation that lives up to the understandably high standards of the Ministry of Defence. That fact has drawn the eye of the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, which indicates that much work remains to be done in delivering an improvement in the living experiences of service families and providing value for public money, as most of that money goes to a private company.

I wonder whether the future accommodation model should learn from elements of the Scottish housing standard, on which the Ministry of Defence could at least reflect, in introducing a basic standard. The Ministry of Defence in Scotland is exempt from the national housing standard, which every social landlord had to meet by 2015. That brings me to Sir Gerald Howarth, who mentioned social housing. Rather than blaming pregnant women, perhaps the best way to give people access to social housing is not only to build more of it, but to stop selling it.

This week’s Combat Stress report highlights some of the fundamental problems faced by veterans and underlines the fact that much work remains to be done. The opportunities grasped by many who enlist in our armed forces are unfortunately not shared by nearly enough people. Those of us who take an interest in armed forces and veterans affairs will not be satisfied until that attainment gap is closed. I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed about the corporate covenant. I am seeing that in small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency. Last week, I attended a Burns celebration in which the chamber of commerce—it covers not only West Dunbartonshire, but the whole of the old county of Dunbartonshire—led the charge to get businesses involved in that corporate approach.

It is one of my great hopes that the idea of the covenant can become embedded in the culture of the armed forces. The service rendered by those who join must be returned many times by not only this Government, but Governments of the devolved Administrations—and by the society that those people have served. I welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment, which some of my hon. Friends have mentioned. Last year, the Scottish Government set out their ambitious agenda for veterans with “Renewing our Commitments”, in order to make Scotland the go-to destination for those who leave the services .

In conclusion, I reiterate my welcome for the report and my satisfaction in the ongoing work of the armed forces covenant to ensure that those who have served are given the support and opportunities that they deserve. Like most people in this House and in the country, I know from my own family experience—members of my family have been on the front line—the unique challenges faced by those who serve in the armed forces, and by their families. I am happy to say that they deserve our respect, our thanks and our ongoing support. In doing so, I do not forget the work that we in this House and those in the Ministry of Defence must still do to ensure that veterans receive more support than we are giving them at the moment.