We continue to deliver a range of services to our veterans and their families. That includes pension and compensation payments, and tailored support through our Veterans Welfare Service and Defence Transition Services. We are also pressing ahead with our £40 million transformation programme, which will digitise old, paper-based practices, improving processes and creating a single entry point for pensions and compensation by the end of 2024.
The digitisation programme I referred to in my initial response to the hon. Lady’s question will make a big difference; in fact, the early evidence is that that is the case. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs recently visited Veterans UK and was hugely encouraged by what he saw. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families, who sends his apologies, Mr Speaker, for not being able to be here today, is on this issue very closely. Whatever the failings of the past, the transformation process should lead to significantly better outcomes.
The Minister will know that 14% of veterans in England and Wales are female. In a recent survey, 23% of those veterans said they had suffered sexual harassment in the armed forces, and a further 23% said they had been subject to emotional bullying. That has significantly contributed to post-traumatic stress disorder cases among female veterans. Will the Minister set out what the Government are doing to ensure that these veterans get the best support they can and that they get it while they are serving, so that we can both encourage more women to join the armed forces and meet the Government’s target of 30% of the armed forces being female in the next five years?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising such an important issue, which gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by my hon. Friend Sarah Atherton on the Defence Committee and while she was a Minister in the Department. This is an issue that the Department is working on. The Defence Secretary has made it a priority that we address any remaining issues around the culture in our armed forces. As the hon. Gentleman noted in his question, we need to make sure that that extends to the support we offer female veterans as well.
Further to the question raised by my hon. Friend Steve McCabe, Ministers will be aware of the series of articles in The Independent campaigning for asylum protection for veteran Afghan pilots and others who fought with the British forces in Afghanistan at great personal, mental and physical cost. Will the Minister confirm once and for all that these veterans will have their asylum applications processed quickly and that not one of them will be deported to Rwanda or anywhere else?
The hon. Gentleman is referring to a veteran of the Afghan national security forces rather than the UK security forces. As I said in response to the original question on ARAP, the terms of ARAP were, from the very beginning, about those who worked with the UK armed forces in direct support of our role in Afghanistan, not the entirety of the Afghan national security forces. In the case the hon. Gentleman refers to, the gentleman applied only on
There is one group of veterans to whom a terrible injustice was done many years ago, namely LGBTQ+ soldiers, sailors and airmen from before 2001 who lost their rank, who were dismissed and who lost their pensions—to this day, none of that has been restored. The Government have appointed Lord Etherton to look into this matter and to try to right some of those wrongs. When will his report be brought before the House? Will there be an oral statement on the matter so that we can cross-examine Ministers on it? Is the Minister confident that he will now find a way of righting these dreadful wrongs?
I personally agree very much with the sentiments of my hon. Friend’s question. The way that gay people were treated during their service in the armed forces at an earlier time does not reflect the values of the modern British armed forces. The review will be here soon, I am told, and we will make sure that its lessons are learned and adopted by the Department.
I, too, read over the weekend that the anniversary of the death of Captain Nairac was today. His case is a particularly barbaric one. There is a great deal of work going into the legacy of the troubles and how investigations should or should not be progressed. The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs leads on that. I know he will have heard the question that my right hon. Friend has asked today, and I am sure he will want to pick up the issues with him in due course.
Tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of the last serviceman being stood down from national service, and I express our thanks to all those who served. The headline findings of the five-year review of the armed forces compensation scheme found the process overly burdensome and even distressing. I have heard many complaints about the scheme from veterans and their families, as I am sure have Ministers. With the Government missing their own casework targets, delaying action on the scheme is not good enough, as it continues to let down our armed forces community. Can I press the Minister on when we will see the final report of the review? Can he confirm that meaningful improvements will be made to the scheme before summer recess?
As I have said in response to earlier questions, around £40 million is being invested in the ongoing transformation process to digitise the existing paper-based processes and records, and that will be transformative. These are hundreds of thousands of records kept largely on paper, which makes them extraordinary difficult to process and has caused all of the delays that the hon. Lady rightly mentions. Since the new online digital claims service was launched through the gov.uk website, the service has been available to service personnel and veterans. The new service has been well received and already accounts for 50% of all new injury and illness claims being made.