Clause 4 - Financial assistance for benefit of armed forces community

Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 10 February 2015.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Defence) 4:30, 10 February 2015

I beg to move amendment 33, in clause 4, page 12, line 40, at end insert—

‘(5A) The Secretary of State must publish an annual report on the extent to which the criteria listed in subsection (5) have been met.”

Again, this is a probing amendment, and I will not press it to a vote. [Interruption.] The Government Whip said “Ooh,” on hearing that, but I can certainly change my mind. I will speak for longer if that allows the Minister to find her speaking notes. If she nods at me when she wants me to sit down, I will do so.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Defence)

We all know the tireless work that many organisations and individuals do on behalf of the wider armed forces community. The clause allows the Secretary of State to award financial assistance to a person for an activity for the benefit of the armed forces community. The clause is not contentious. I am sure we would all pay tribute to the army of unsung volunteers who, day in, day out, help veterans and serving members of our armed forces.

Recently we saw the LIBOR fund set up, and organisations can apply to that for funds to assist veterans and members of the forces community. My amendment—it is a probing one, as I say—suggests that a general report should be produced by the Secretary of State looking at not only where the money has gone but the objectives that have been met by its allocation. People may say that the organisations are publicly scrutinised in terms of the Secretary of State being able to scrutinise them—[Interruption.] Should the Minister wants me to keep going I will, if she has not found her notes yet.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I never lost them. They are four pages long and if the hon. Gentleman is not careful I might read out every word.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Defence)

I am quite happy to listen to the hon. Lady’s four pages of speech but her colleagues behind her will be complaining if that happens.

I look forward to hearing how we will get full transparency and accountability on that money. Those organisations do valuable work and there is a commitment from all parties that they should be supported. They do not get thanked enough, so I would like to put on the record—I am sure every hon. Member present would—my thanks to the organisations that do a fantastic job on behalf of our armed forces.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

That is a happy note, as we come towards the end of our proceedings. We are dealing with things on which we agree. Only you will understand this, Sir Alan, but perhaps one difficulty we have had today is that the hon. Gentleman and I come from Worksop. I do not know whether that is of any significance.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Defence)

Neighbouring schools, in fact.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Neighbouring schools, indeed, so it is a deep-seated rivalry. [ Interruption. ] He is a lot younger than I am.

The reason why the Government are not minded to accept the hon. Gentleman’s amendment is that there is already extensive provision on these matters under the Armed Forces Act 2006, with a duty on the Secretary of State to produce the covenant report. That report lays before Parliament in great detail the work done using the various funds, whether the LIBOR funding or other moneys, including the covenant fund of £10 million a year in perpetuity. The detail required by the amendment is already there in that report.

Given the accountability to the public on how we are fulfilling our commitment to the covenant, the amendment is not required. However, I will add that, notwithstanding some of the jocularity this afternoon, there is agreement on the terrific work done by all members of our armed forces and their families, and by all those who have served in the past. They often work in the most difficult of conditions. Although I know I have repeated this theme, that is why it is so important that when things go wrong, as they inevitably will in any organisation, people have not just a system to which they can turn but a complaints system in which they have confidence. That is so important and is at the heart of the Bill.

In my team, we have worked hard to get the balance right. It is a difficult balance; if we look at some of the debates held in the other place and the contributions by former service chiefs giving their concerns about that balance, that might explain why. I thank my team for the great work they have done and the real care they have put into drafting the Bill. We look forward to further debates upon it.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Defence)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.