Extracts from a speech by Shadow Defence Minister Gemma Doyle during last Tuesdays Armed Forces Day debate in parliament.
Armed Forces Day gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on the bravery and sacrifices that our forces make – doing what is asked of them without question or hesitation – and, so often, placing their lives on the line to protect others. This year, on Armed Forces Day, we will once again think about those continuing to serve, of course in Afghanistan, but also in other theatres around the world.
Last month I visited Bosnia, where our intervention in the 90s helped bring an end to the horrific atrocities there. But I also attended the yearly service for Dunkirk Veterans at Jamestown Parish Church, with an excellent sermon as usual by the Reverend Norma Moore. Thinking about Dunkirk and about our actions in Bosnia, made me reflect on the huge variety of tasks and operations that we ask our soldiers, seamen and airmen to undertake, sometimes in the glare of media spotlight, sometimes away from the cameras – but always with the utmost professionalism and dedication.
We are lucky that we still have veterans with us who were at Dunkirk. They remind us of the true value of freedom and why standing up for it at home and around the world is so important. But we should remember that our veterans community in 2012 is mixed and varied. The men and women who served in WWII, in the Falklands, in Bosnia, this year in Libya and of course in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The last Government’s Service Personnel Command Paper paved the way in introducing many of the changes that are now considered integral to the Covenant. From better access to healthcare, to greater levels of compensation for injured personnel under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, it marked a sea change in the way that our forces were treated across Government. What we need to see from the Government now is a clear plan of where the next steps lie.
Mr Chairman, disappointingly, even now with the public awareness of the work of our forces higher the recent survey by Lord Ashcroft , The Armed Forces and Society, reported that 1 in 5 members of our forces had been refused service in a bar or hotel whilst wearing their uniform . This is an unacceptable deliberate discrimination. There is already a model in place, offering protections for those subject to verbal abuse or criminal activity. We believe we should consider whether this should be extended to our forces.
Forces families put up with an awful lot, quite honestly we don’t do enough for them and we need to do much much more on a whole load of issues not least improving in improving the air bridge when serving family members are deploying or coming home, on spouses employment and on housing.
Housing remains one of, if not the, issue which causes most concern among service families and the Army Families Federation recently published annual report of enquiries from service families in 2011 bears this out with housing coming top of the list. The Minister has brushed this concern aside before but he needs to be honest that the money which the Chancellor announced for forces housing in the Budget, whilst very welcome, still leaves a gap of £41m, because the Government had already cut £141 million from the budget. The Government may try and pull the wool over MPs eyes, but I think the Minister knows he can’t do that with service families or indeed with service charities.
You can read the full debate here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm120619/halltext/120619h0001.htm#12061953000054