Examination of Witnesses

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 8th October 2020.

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General Sir John McColl and Charles Byrne gave evidence.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale 11:32 am, 8th October 2020

Before we move into the evidence session, are there any declarations of interest?

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

I served with General Nick Parker in the same battalion.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

I do not know whether I need to declare this, but I am a member of the British Legion.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

It is always best to put these things on the record.

Thank you, Mr Byrne, for joining us in person. Will you say who you are for the record, and who you are here on behalf of?

Charles Byrne:

I am Charles Byrne, director general of the Royal British Legion.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

We are joined online by General Sir John McColl, who is chairman of the Confederation of Service Charities. Will you also confirm your name and designation for the record, General McColl?

General Sir John McColl:

I am General (Retired) John McColl. I am the chairman of Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

For your information, in case you are not aware, we have a witness here in the room, Mr Charles Byrne, so we will be alternating between you and Mr Byrne. We have some logistical challenges, because we have to adhere to social distancing, so I am sure you will bear with us if those arise. We have until 12.15 for this session. I call on Stephen Morgan to begin the questioning.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

Thank you, Chair. May I place on the record our gratitude for the work of the British Legion and other charities in this challenging time for our country? It has been an important year for the nation. Charles, does any aspect of the Bill risk breaching the armed forces covenantQ 155?

Charles Byrne:

Thank you for the question. We welcome and understand the good intent behind the Bill. However, we have raised concerns that the six-year longstop could be a breach of the armed forces covenant, because it restricts the ability of armed forces personnel to bring a civil claim against their employer. As far as I understand it, that longstop limit does not apply elsewhere. That is the concern we have exactly.

Charles Byrne:

That is what we think, yes.

General Sir John McColl:

First, I absolutely agree with Charles’s support for the intent of the Bill. The pernicious harassment of servicemen by the legal profession following the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan was absolutely disgraceful. We commend the efforts of the Government in bringing forward this legislation to try to address that issue.

In terms of the advantages and disadvantages, we absolutely acknowledge that the six-year cut-off will disadvantage some elements of the community—we understand that it is about 6% of cases. Of course, there is a judgment to be made between that disadvantage and the disadvantage experienced by the 94%, or the significant number of people, who may be subject to harassment. That is the balance of advantage.

I just observe, sitting in front of you as the chairman of the Confederation of Service Charities, that we members of the service charity community are not experts in law, human rights or legislation. Those are the remit of politicians, officials and lawyers. We can talk in broad terms about the interests of our community. We cannot talk about the detail of how to achieve the laudable intent of trying to put a stop to this appalling harassment.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

Q Thank you for those answers, and for setting out your concerns about part 2 of the Bill. What do you want to see addressed? What would improve the legislation, based on the comments you have made?

Charles Byrne:

Anything that can be done to address the fundamental concern about that six-year longstop. As I say, we support the intent behind the Bill and welcome that the impact on mental health is explicitly called out; that is very good. While there is good there, we think that the Bill could be improved if it is possible to address the six-year longstop that limits the ability to bring civil cases. There is some difficulty in the numbers as well—the 6% that Sir John refers to. We could look into the detail that sits behind that.

General Sir John McColl:

We encourage continuing consultation to find ways of ameliorating the difficulties of the 6%. However, we observe that the overriding requirement is to ensure that this harassment ceases.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

Q I understand that the British Legion has seen a copy of the Bill’s impact assessment. Are there any concerns in there that you want to bring to the attention of the Committee?

Charles Byrne:

No. To be honest, I have not been through it in detail.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

I think the Minister has a follow-up question, which he will have to deliver from the microphone.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

Q On the Bill’s breaching the armed forces covenant, I do not think there is any dispute that, if you bring in any time limit on anything, people will fall either side of that line. However, disadvantage in the armed forces covenant is very clearly about comparing those in a similar situation—those in service and civilians—which is why the Bill applies to both groups.

You argue that someone serving in the armed forces will have that limitation and will therefore be disadvantaged, breaking the armed forces covenant. Service personnel will of course be able to serve in operations, where they may get killed or lose limbs, and some would argue that that is a disadvantage. The Government would argue that that is a misapplication of the armed forces covenant, and that, actually, if you compare a service person with a civilian in the same situation, there is no breach of the armed forces covenant. What would you say to that?

Charles Byrne:

You have always been very clear about welcoming our challenge as a constructive effort, so we have had this conversation before, Minister. Thank you for the chance today.

For me, it is fairly simple. In the armed forces covenant, the principle of no disadvantage is not caveated to say, “It must be no disadvantage in directly comparable situations.” It is a principle of no disadvantage much more generally than that. This Bill would effectively prevent a member of the armed forces from being able to bring a case against their employer, which would be different from a civilian—

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

Q Of course, I understand that. But by extension of that, armed forces service—because you may well suffer the disadvantage of being killed—is, in fact, a breach of the armed forces covenant.

Charles Byrne:

Not in quite the same way. I was looking at it much more generally—

Charles Byrne:

I think this Bill would be a breach of the armed forces covenant. If you look at the general principle, when we say that we do not want someone to be disadvantaged by their service, and think of a really straightforward example—one that you will well know—about people who move house regularly because of deployment, they therefore go to the back of the queue for dentistry or primary schools. That is where you are comparing somebody who works nearby—in a shop or a hospital—in a direct comparison, where we do not want the disadvantage. I think it does apply in very general terms.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

Q Okay, so the disadvantage of serving is, in your view, not applicable in the case of being killed, but in this case where we are trying to protect our people, it is applicable. Do you see that there is a disparity there that is not really fair? It seems to be translating it to your own intent.

Charles Byrne:

No. The intent behind the armed forces covenant was that there should be no disadvantage, and it looks—

Charles Byrne:

Is that an inherent risk of—

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

Of military service—I think most people would argue that it is.

Charles Byrne:

Exactly.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

I think we have got to allow Mr Byrne to answer the question.

Charles Byrne:

What happens if this Bill goes through is that it protects the Ministry of Defence from civil action—from someone bringing a case. That longstop does not protect the armed forces personnel. Is not that the intent behind the armed forces covenant—not to protect the MOD, but to protect armed forces personnel?

Charles Byrne:

On overseas operations.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

Q Yes, and as we have heard, the vast majority of those claims—94% of them—are from people abroad—

Charles Byrne:

Even that number is questionable, though, is it not?

Charles Byrne:

No, it is based upon a sample. Of the 70 cases that fell outside of the six months, only 39 were investigated—not all of them. Of those 39, 17 were found to have—so those were 17 actual cases. There could be another 31 from that sample size, which is taken only from Afghanistan and Iraq, as you know. There is a whole area of exclusions within that. So that number is a little bit—

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

Well, the numbers are the numbers. We cannot argue with them.

Charles Byrne:

They are, but they are questionable numbers, potentially.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

Q Okay, but the idea that you can apply the armed forces covenant when it fits, and then not when it does not fit, I think is a misapplication of the armed forces covenant.

Charles Byrne:

Is that not exactly what this Bill is potentially doing? It is choosing to apply it in some cases, and not in others.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

No, because what we are looking to do is to protect, and to ensure that our servicemen are not disadvantaged.

Charles Byrne:

I think it is protecting the MOD, rather than the service personnel—that is the debate that we have had.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

Could we go back to constructive questions, rather than an interrogation?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

Indeed. I think we will have the opportunity for some of the issues that the Minister has raised in the parliamentary debate and in the subsequent discussion in Committee.

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

Q I have a supplementary question on that point. Everybody keeps talking about the longstop, but nobody brings in the one year from point of knowledge. That point of knowledge could be 25 years afterwards. We cannot have the longstop argument without that point. If there was no—[Interruption.]

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

Just to explain it to you, General McColl, that bell is not a fire alarm or for a vote; it signals the fact that the House of Commons has suspended its sitting in the Chamber for three minutes. We will hear another bell shortly, so just be aware of that.

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

If that one year from point of knowledge was not in there, I would get your argument. I believe that we are here to try and get the best for our service personnel and veterans. However, that one year from point of knowledge has to have the weight. That is why it has been put in there—it could be 20 to 30 years later. We heard the other day about asbestosis. That is not within a six-year period. There will be things that some in the veteran community experience in 20 years that we do not yet know exist.

Charles Byrne:

We recognise and understand that there is that point of knowledge, which is a really powerful and important principle in there. Then we look at the recent sample survey of that limited pool of data and we find 19 cases where, even from point of knowledge, they would have fallen outside that six-month period. Even allowing for the point of knowledge, there are still 19 families and veterans who would not have been able to bring a case under the Bill.

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

Q When I got involved in politics, I found out through Facebook about the armed forces covenant. When I was shot, I paid for all my own treatment. I did not get any support from the charities or anything else. I had fallen out of the system and I did not know about the covenant. I am now under the trauma unit in Birmingham, where they review me regularly. I think it was two years after that was formed, and I still did not know about it.

There has to be education about the Bill as well. I really respect the work your organisation does, but within and outside the military there is a need to educate our troops and let people know about this. How do we connect with people who are now 60 or 70 years of age and let them know about the point of knowledge? It is not all about the Bill. I believe we have a role to educate the community, which we know well, about the point of knowledge. At the armed forces breakfasts and through all the different routes of communication, we can try to reduce that number. There will always be people who fall through, but we should do everything to stop them and there is a role for education. Do you see that role?

Charles Byrne:

The Legion was always the organisation that championed and brought the armed forces covenant into law, so education is part of that. In an ideal world, we would get all that is good in the Bill and we would also address this area of concern, because we would not want anybody to fall out of that. We are looking to make sure that no veteran or member of the armed forces community is disadvantaged by a six-year stop, even allowing for the point of knowledge. It does not exist today. If we were to introduce it, it would be a limit that does not exist today.

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

I have another supplementary on that.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

If you have a short supplementary, you can ask it.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

Q There are proposals to put the armed forces covenant into law next year. Do you think a legally binding covenant and the Bill are compatible under English law?

Charles Byrne:

Can you say that again?

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

Do you think a legally binding covenant is compatible with what we see in the Bill, in terms of the proposals that will be brought before Parliament next year?

Charles Byrne:

It is an interesting question. On the general principle of strengthening the force of the armed forces covenant, I welcome that. In all honesty, on the considerations of how this might play out in that situation, I cannot give you an answer now.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

The proposals for next year are to bring the armed forces covenant into law. Do you believe that a legally binding covenant and this Bill would be compatible under English law?

General Sir John McColl:

We are in consultation with the Government at the moment in relation to bringing the covenant into law. We have raised a number of issues with them, which the Minister who is sitting with you is very well aware of. Charles can support me here in terms of the concerns we have.

The first concern is that initially there was no mention of special consideration, in other words, for those who had given the most—those who had suffered bereavement or very serious injury. I understand that may now be in it. There was also a concern that it was limited, in that it dealt with three specific areas rather than the totality of the covenant. We continue to have concerns in that area, and we also have concerns that it seems to focus the effort on local government rather than central Government. Those are our major concerns. I am not sure whether I have answered your question, but those are the concerns that we have. We will be watching the consultation and participating in it.

Photo of Sarah Atherton Sarah Atherton Conservative, Wrexham

Charles, on Second Reading, three times I heard Opposition Members say that the British Legion is categorically against the Bill. I have heard it once in this Committee already. Can you confirm? Are you against the Bill?Q

Charles Byrne:

No, we are not opposing the Bill. We think the Bill can be improved, which is why we are focusing on this particular element in the second part of the Bill. To be categorical, no, we are not opposing the Bill.

Photo of Sarah Atherton Sarah Atherton Conservative, Wrexham

Q I am glad to hear that. Every Bill will never suit every person in every circumstance—that is just not possible—but would you not agree that the Bill makes great advancements to protect our veterans?

Charles Byrne:

We certainly welcome the intent behind what we see the Bill is trying to do in, as the general said, trying to reduce pernicious, vexatious claims. However, we are looking to say, “Can we achieve those aims without disadvantaging service personnel?” If we can do both, both should be done.

Photo of Sarah Atherton Sarah Atherton Conservative, Wrexham

Q Just going back to my point, a Bill will not cover every person in every circumstance, but this has to be a lot better than where we are now.

Charles Byrne:

Is that a way of saying that there is not the appetite to try to address those who would fall out of the Bill?

Photo of Sarah Atherton Sarah Atherton Conservative, Wrexham

Q No, I am not saying that at all.

Charles Byrne:

The answer is the same: if there is good being done, we should aim to make that good go as far as possible and not exclude those who would be excluded by the six-year longstop allowing for the date of knowledge.

Photo of Sarah Atherton Sarah Atherton Conservative, Wrexham

Q The six-year longstop, the point of knowledge or diagnosis—that is the only concern that the British Legion has?

Charles Byrne:

That is the concern that we have brought forward, yes. If that can be addressed through further consultation work, that would be a good development.

Photo of Sarah Atherton Sarah Atherton Conservative, Wrexham

Thank you, Charles. By the way, your new TV poppy appeal is very good. I saw it this morning.

Charles Byrne:

Thank you.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

Could you give us examples of situations where individuals might fall out with this six-year limit?Q

Charles Byrne:

In terms of specific examples, I cannot at the moment. I know from the sample size that was taken that there were, I think, 19 individuals or families who fell outside that. I do not have specific examples.

Charles Byrne:

This is difficult, because what are the effects of loss or injury that might make somebody find it difficult and challenging to bring forward their cases? The obvious one that comes around is hearing loss, which I think was excluded from those numbers as well. When it is that small percentage, that excludes hearing loss. You can imagine that if there are conditions that are developed over a period of time that do not relate to just one field of operations, and that is a whole area that could fall outside the Bill. If the hearing loss is established over a period of time over a number of operations, you might not be able to trace it back to a particular overseas operation. That is just one example.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

Q Do you agree that when people sign up for the armed forces, they understand that there is an element of risk with that?

Charles Byrne:

Of course, yes.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

Q Is there also an expectation on their employer, the Ministry of Defence, to look after them in the best possible way?

Charles Byrne:

Absolutely, and this cuts both ways. We recognise that if we are asking that the armed forces maintain the highest standards when they go out and serve in difficult situations, there is an equally fair onus on their employer, the Ministry of Defence, to provide them with what is needed do that and the support that is needed.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

Q Do you find it worrying that the Minister is arguing this morning that it is okay to disadvantage members of the armed forces or retired members of the armed forces because their service puts them at an inherent disadvantage?

Charles Byrne:

The Minister has been very clear and welcoming of our disagreement with him over this point. He knows well that we have a different view around the impact of this on the armed forces covenant.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

Q Okay. Can we talk specifically about part 2 of the Bill? Part 2 puts limits on people making a claim for negligence against the MOD and you are suggesting that that is putting them at a disadvantage compared to civilians or those who have not served. Why is that?

Charles Byrne:

Why does it put them at a disadvantage? Because, in my understanding, unless the civilian is being employed by the MOD in overseas operations, there is nowhere else where there is a similar time limit for cases of injury or death that could be brought to an employer. That is the difference.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

Q The six-year limit is being sold as being beneficial to veterans. Do you see it as such?

Charles Byrne:

It is an interesting question. I think there will be support for the intent behind this Bill, because—

Charles Byrne:

Yes, indeed. I think there is a level of understanding that is required, but when people understand the potential for limiting the ability of veterans and armed forces personnel to bring claims, that would not be welcome.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q How exactly does the Bill disadvantage troops compared to their civilian counterparts? What is the broader effect of that disadvantaging behaviour on the overall welfare and morale of service personnel, veterans and families?

Charles Byrne:

The point we have been working around so far is that at the moment there is no time limit, even allowing for point of knowledge. This would introduce a time limit. That time limit does not apply more widely in other civilian cases, so we see that as a disadvantage. What impact might that have on morale? Good question. Would it possibly make those who get caught in this situation feel less valued? That would be my conclusion.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q The Bill requires additional weight to be given to the stresses of operations when deciding to prosecute. To what extent do you think service personnel are adequately trained to deal with these stresses?

Charles Byrne:

I am glad you called that out, but I do not think I am in any way qualified or able to answer that question.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q Okay. Perhaps I could ask Cobseo to answer that question, then? Would you like me to repeat it?

General Sir John McColl:

Could you repeat it?

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Bill requires additional weight to be given to the stresses of operations when deciding to prosecute. To what extent do you think service personnel are adequately trained to deal with these stresses?

General Sir John McColl:

My personal opinion on that is that the training that service personnel receive generally for conducting operations is absolutely first class. Indeed, that will reflect on their conduct on operations and that conduct will be affected by the role of the chain of command. I think they are well prepared. I am sure there are exceptions and that there will be difficulties, but in general terms that is what I would say. It is a question that you should really be asking of the serving chiefs within the Ministry of Defence, rather than a retired general, such as myself.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q Okay, thank you. From your experience, do you think training can be improved in any way to help with dealing with stresses?

General Sir John McColl:

Training can always be improved, there is no doubt about that. After every operation there is always analysis of the training people go through to ensure that they are prepared for whatever they may have to deal with. I am sure that is the case. The area where training has particularly improved over recent years, but continually needs to be improved, is that of mental resilience. If I am being honest, that is something we did not pay significant attention to in previous decades. We need to do better in that particular area.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

Thank you very much to both witnesses.

Charles Byrne:

I think this is an area I probably need to be careful about. Echoing John’s comments from the personal perspective, I was with friends last night, one of whom is still serving with the Royal Marines. He spoke very passionately about how well their training goes and a new element of the programme, I think called Regain. It is taken very seriously and good work is being done to recognise and address the mental stresses, the mental health and mental strain.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is perhaps appropriate, with it being World Mental Health Day tomorrow, that we finish on that point. Thank you.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

I am going to call Peter Gibson on a supplementary and then I will come to you, Mr Anderson.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

Charles, given that your principal objection to the Bill as it is drafted is in respect of your perceived view that it breaches the armed forces covenant, can you give us some examples of how you think that might manifest itself?Q

Charles Byrne:

I think this is a point we have covered previously, so forgive me if I repeat myself. I think it is the same sort of question. We have seen the evidence that there are 19 cases where veterans’ families would not be able to bring a claim against the MOD because it would fall out of the proposed six-year time limit after the point of knowledge and all those other caveats. Those are the examples that we think would follow from the Bill and that is only of the ones that we know, and the ones where the data exists, for Afghanistan and Iraq.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

Q How would you propose to improve the Bill, if we were to improve the Bill, to rectify that? How would that be done?

Charles Byrne:

That is a good and fair question, which the Minister has also asked us, to which we say, in fairness, that we think that is your job. It is our job to try to point out where it can be improved, but not how. That is a bit unfair, but that is the way it works.

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

Q This is the first Bill Committee that I have sat on as a new MP, and I have watched the process get to where it has got to already, notwithstanding the years it has taken to get to this stage. On Second Reading, and even in our last witness session, there were multiple calls to stop the Bill. If we produced a Bill that had everything in it that the British Legion has asked for, there would still be an organisation against the Bill. I saw on Tuesday that, broadly, veterans are in favour, legal firms are not. I am trying to figure that one out and I am sure I will get there in the end. What will the impact be for the veteran community if the Bill does not pass Third Reading and come into law? I ask that to General McColl first. If the Bill is stopped, what will the impact be on the veteran community?

General Sir John McColl:

Both Charles and I started off this hearing by saying that we welcomed the intent of the Bill. What veterans want to see is the pernicious harassment of veterans following operations by the legal profession stopped. If the Bill achieves that, they would regret the fact that it had been stopped.

I accept that there may be some trade-offs in doing so. Whether or not it is a breach of the covenant, there will be roughly 6% of people who may have brought cases against the MOD or the Government who can do so now and who will not be able to do so in future. We would wish to see that ameliorated. We would wish to see that in some way worked around. It is up to the Government to see if they can do that. The bottom line—I think that is what your question is getting at—is that we want to see harassment stopped. There may be some compromises required in doing that.

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

Thank you very much, General. I know I said veterans, but I also mean serving personnel.

Charles Byrne:

Thank you for that response, John, which helps to lay it out. The point of this process, and the consultation and the debate that we had, is to produce a better Bill at the end of the day. As I said before, the Minister has always been very clear that he welcomes our constructive challenge and disagreement.

You said that if this Bill addresses everything the Legion is looking for, it might not get through. There is not everything in there; there is a single focus point. There is a restriction introduced by the Bill, and if it can be removed, the Bill will be better. It seems to me that that is a good thing to do. As Sir John says, everybody wishes vexatious, pernicious claims against veterans to be addressed and reduced, and we fully support that intent. We want to make this better, which is why we have contributed and have always been very clear about our concerns in this area. If the Bill can be made better, I am sure you and veterans would welcome that.

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

Q To follow on from that and a point you made earlier, let us say that this Bill goes through the Committee and Parliament with no changes and becomes law. Would then a major campaign from the British Legion and others to educate about that one-year point of knowledge be a core focus of what you would be looking to do?

Charles Byrne:

Is this the Government offering to pay for a massive campaign from the Legion?

Charles Byrne:

We are just about to go into our poppy appeal in the most difficult time we have ever had, so I would not give a commitment to any campaign. We do a lot to drive awareness of the armed forces covenant as it is, and we always have done. We are trying to build the awareness of all our services. We would welcome any support and help that you are able to give us on that.

Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West

Thank you. I appreciate the comments.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

Are there any further questions for either witness? As there are no further questions, I thank you, General McColl for your appearance online, and thank you, Mr Byrne, for your appearance in the room. I am grateful for your forbearance with the logistical issues we are managing today. Thank you, on behalf of the Committee, for your evidence.