Before I go any further, I would like to declare an interest. Despite my youthful looks, I classify as a veteran because I spent 12 years in the Army. My son, in time, when he has completed his service, will also be a veteran. The label of veteran is one that I wear with pride, and I believe that it gives me the right to hold strong opinions on the subject that we are discussing.
Before I turn my comments to the report prepared by Eric Fraser, I would like to look at an important issue facing veterans that does not form part of the report. I want to take members back in time to London in 1982, and specifically to 20 July. My regimental colleagues, who had served with distinction in the Falklands, had returned to the UK and life had started to follow a more normal routine. Soldiers from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, wearing uniforms from the 19th century, riding Irish horses, set off from Hyde Park barracks to change the guard. Little did they know that a man watched them with but one intention: their destruction.
He and his fellow terrorists had packed 25Ib of gelignite into the boot of a car on the route that the guard took. To add to the blast, he had packed 30Ib of 6in nails around the device. When he detonated it, he instantly killed three of my fellow soldiers—another died three days later. The explosion also killed seven horses. Those were not the only murders that day. Seven bandsmen playing a concert in Regent’s Park were also killed.
Danny McNamee, a member of the Irish Republican Army, was convicted and served time in jail for the bombing until he was released under the Good Friday agreement. However, he was not alone. John Downey, another IRA member, was charged in 2013, but his trial collapsed as the Police Service of Northern Ireland had sent him a letter, in error, assuring him that he would not face criminal charges.
Why do I tell that story? It is because, today, Northern Ireland veterans are still facing investigations and I believe that it is time that the UK Government stopped those actions, which are often no more than witch hunts supported by ambulance-chasing lawyers. Our soldiers, sailors and airmen are not criminals; they are normal people—people who would defend our country with their lives, if necessary. Stopping that persecution would allow those veterans to live productive and full lives.
I welcome Eric Fraser’s report. I know that the most difficult time for service personnel is when they leave. Many are unclear about what they have to offer and have lost the discipline, routine and support that the services provided them with. To that end, recommendation 6 in the report is important, and I urge the Government to ensure that all opportunities are made known to service leavers as early as possible in order to allow a seamless and supported transition from service to civilian life.
The recommendation recognises that veterans’ partners also bring skills, such as teaching and nursing, which are in demand across Scotland. They should not be forgotten. However, as has been mentioned before, to make that approach really work, it will be important to ensure that housing is available in the areas where job vacancies are identified.
Turning to the section headed “Looking to the Future and Leadership”, I am sure that we all agree with recommendations 17, 18 and 19. It is important that Parliament monitors the issues facing veterans and reaches out to ensure that Scotland uses the skills that veterans undoubtedly have.
I commend the report, and I reiterate my plea that all of us remember that service personnel are team players; they played for our team and often put their lives on the line. It is right that we stand up for them and it is necessary that we protect them, as they protected us when they were asked to. We should protect them from those who seek to hound them. We should all support the recommendations in the report and work with the UK and Scottish Governments to do the best for our veterans. They deserve no less.