Veterans Strategy

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

What progress the Government have made on implementing the veterans strategy.

Photo of Luke Graham Luke Graham Conservative, Ochil and South Perthshire

What progress the Government have made on implementing the veterans strategy.

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

The Government already do much to support our brave veterans and their families, but for the first time we are mapping out a 10-year strategy to give greater clarity on how we want that support to develop.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

I thank the Minister for that answer. What role does he see the Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committee playing in the development of better care for our veterans? Is there not a case for renewing and revitalising the committee—after all, it is nearly 100 years old—so that it can play a more prominent and effective role?

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He almost suggested—I am sure that he did not mean to—that the original members of the committee were still serving, but it has advanced and reformed, and I work with it very closely. It is important that when someone leaves the armed forces, they are supported by our country, which is indebted to them for their service. It is important that we use that committee and others to provide veterans with the support they expect.

Photo of Luke Graham Luke Graham Conservative, Ochil and South Perthshire

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House the level of spending on veterans in all parts of the United Kingdom?

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

It is difficult to put an exact figure on it, but we estimate that the MOD spends around £7 billion on our veterans. It is so important that we provide that support wherever it is needed across the country, whether through pensions, mental health support or simply comradeship, to recognise their service and thank them for it.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Can the Minister give some indication of how he intends to monitor the delivery of the covenant, given the recent report by the charity SSAFA, which said that only 16% of veterans actually believed that it was being delivered effectively?

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

The right hon. Gentleman must not mean the veterans strategy, because we have not yet started it. We put it out to consultation and received over 4,000 replies, which we are now collating. I hope to make a statement to the House in the near future on how we intend to move forward with the 10-year strategy.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

As my party’s defence spokesperson, may I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on her new position?

The Minister knows my frustration about the unequal and inconsistent approach to implementing the armed forces covenant across this United Kingdom. As part of the veterans strategy, will he look again at the ten-minute rule Bill that I introduced to try to ensure a duty of compliance across the United Kingdom?

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

The hon. Gentleman touches on two important aspects. First, there is the obligation to honour the covenant, which is still in its infancy. There is so much work still to be done, because implementation is very disparate across the country. Secondly, there are specific challenges in Northern Ireland. I have had the pleasure of visiting Northern Ireland with him to see how we can ensure that the covenant is honoured there, given the very sensitive issues faced there.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

On behalf of the Defence Committee, may I welcome the Secretary of State to her new position, for which she is well qualified indeed? May I also pay tribute to her predecessor, who not only saved our amphibious forces from premature dissolution, but won considerable battles with one of our real adversaries in defence: the Treasury?

Does the Minister, as a veteran himself, agree that part of the veterans strategy ought to be the protection of former service personnel against repeated re-investigation for their activities in past conflicts? I welcome the fact that the Government seem to be moving towards some sort of qualified statute of limitations approach, but may I urge them to bring their announcement to the Floor of the House, rather than simply putting it out as a written statement, as at the moment they are suggesting they intend to do?

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

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. I am afraid that I cannot provide a full answer because, as he suggests, the Secretary of State will be providing more information on this tomorrow.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Yes, but I think that I can say with confidence from the Chair that a written statement will simply not meet the needs of the case, given the appetite—I am grateful for the nod of affirmation from Sir Michael Fallon, the former Secretary of State for Defence. The House will clearly wish to question Ministers on the matter, and therefore it needs to be done in the Chamber.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

I join the Chairman of the Defence Committee, as a fellow Committee member, in welcoming the Secretary of State to her new responsibilities, not least as she carries the Queen’s commission. May I emphasise the point made by the Chairman of the Committee—and indeed by you, Mr Speaker—that the most important issue with regard to veterans is protecting them from lawfare and legal witch-hunting? It is absolutely imperative that the Secretary of State makes an oral statement to the House tomorrow, so that all Members from across the House can question her on her proposals, which I am sure we will welcome given half a chance.

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

So many Members have rightly congratulated the Defence Secretary, but this is the first time that the fact that she is a reservist in the naval reserve has been credited. That leaves just one member of the Defence Front Bench team who is not in uniform at the moment, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Stuart Andrew. So, no pressure on him to join one element of the forces. On my right hon. Friend’s substantive question, the point has been made and the Defence Secretary will be in her place tomorrow.