Amendment 19

Part of Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 9 March 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence) 9:15, 9 March 2021

My Lords, at this time of the evening it would be very easy simply to agree with everything the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has just said and be happy to move on, but that would do a disservice to our service men and women and veterans, because the points these amendments speak to and the words the noble and learned Lord has just uttered are extremely important. It is surely appropriate that we treat our service personnel and veterans with respect, and that they should not be disadvantaged because they have been service men and women.

Clearly, incidents and dangers can happen in the field of battle that will not be legislated for in a conventional civilian sense, but there might be other issues—hearing loss, for example—associated with having been in the Armed Forces which become clear only later. It seems very strange, as the noble and learned Lord has pointed out, that people should have different rights according to whether the problems arose while based in the UK or on overseas operations. Can the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, who appears to have taken over from the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, say what work the Government have done in looking at the potential ramifications of this limitation?

This Bill has been put forward by the Government as something supposed to help our service men and women, but this limitation seems to limit their rights. I know the Minister will have been told that it is very important that cases are brought swiftly and issues are dealt with promptly, that it is in everybody’s interest to do so and that delaying things is in no one’s. But neither is curtailing people’s rights.

The Royal British Legion sent a briefing picking up in particular on the Armed Forces covenant, quoting the point:

“Those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether Regular or Reserve, those who have served in the past and their families, should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services … In accessing services, former members of the Armed Forces should expect the same level of support as any other citizen in society.”

Assuming that Her Majesty’s Government still support the Armed Forces covenant, can the Minister explain how the proposals in Part 2 of the Bill live up to its commitments? Can he tell us what additional thoughts the Government might be willing to have on looking again at this limitation?