Armed Forces Covenant

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons on 18th February 2019.

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Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

What steps his Department is taking to ensure the effective delivery of the armed forces covenant.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment)

What steps his Department is taking to ensure the effective delivery of the armed forces covenant.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I am pleased to say that there is broadening support for the armed forces covenant, which is a priority for the Ministry of Defence. We now have over 3,300 organisations participating in it, and the veterans strategy consultation, which was launched in November, is looking at further ways in which we can expand its support.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

May I too associate myself with your comments, Mr Speaker? Any budding politicians out there should read the part of Paul Flynn’s book where he describes setting on fire his oven’s cooking instructions five years after moving into his flat.

On a more serious note, with an estimated 58 veterans’ suicides last year and the charitable sector saying that it is struggling to cope with demand, does the Minister agree that there is too much reliance on the sector to support personnel leaving the service with mental health disorders?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. We should not make the automatic assumption that because there is a suicide and the person is a veteran, it is because he is a veteran that there is a suicide. However, that should not prohibit us from understanding more about what is actually happening to those who serve and have served. We are working with the coroner’s department to get better data on this, and we also have a new programme to make sure that people are aware of the mental health support that they can gain once they leave the armed forces.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment)

The Minister will know that there are few very reliable statistics on veterans who are homeless. What does the Minister intend to do to improve that?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

This goes to the heart of what the covenant is all about. I want to see all homeless people looked after, and I want to make sure that if they are veterans, the covenant is recognised and enforced. However, if we are to do that, it is not the MOD that needs to do it; it is actually local government. Thanks to the veterans board, we are now enforcing the covenant and encouraging Government Departments to ask, “Are you doing enough?” Each local authority has an armed forces champion, who should be looking at these issues to make sure that the authority is tackling homelessness issues in its area. If there are any areas where there is a problem with that, please let me know.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

It is anecdotally alleged, although not necessarily backed up by statistics, that a disproportionate number of prisoners are veterans. What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to making better use of the MOD prison estate—particularly Colchester Prison, for example, which I understand is relatively empty at the moment? Would that not be more appropriate housing for soldiers and veterans who are in civilian prisons?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the experience that he brings to the Chamber. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and I would like to pursue these conversations—perhaps with the Prisons Minister, my hon. Friend Rory Stewart—to see what more can be done.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (Defence)

A recent investigation has revealed that black African soldiers in the East Africa Force, formed in 1940, which encompassed thousands of troops drawn from the British colonies and current Commonwealth countries, were paid only a third of the wage received by their white counterparts. Will the Minister tell the House whether there will now be a full and comprehensive Ministry of Defence investigation of this issue, and whether such an investigation would consider granting appropriate compensation to all surviving veterans?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, of which the Secretary of State is aware. It is a Foreign Office lead, and I hope that the FCO will be able to provide more detail on how to move forward given the information presented.