Defence Questions: 12th January 2015

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op)
In the recent armed forces covenant report, the three service families federations state:

“We remain disappointed that a sizeable proportion of our people continue to say that they have little or no knowledge of the AF Covenant and the principles that underpin it.”

Three years after Conservative and Lib Dem MPs were initially whipped by the current Armed Forces Minister to vote against enshrining the principles of the armed forces covenant in law, this Government have failed to test their own policies against the covenant, failed to support local authorities to implement it and, we now know, even failed to ensure that forces families know about it. When are they going to get a grip?
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Anna Soubry)
May I say how very disappointed I am at such an appallingly negative question that achieves absolutely diddly-squat? With the introduction of the covenant enshrined in law, this Government, more than any other, have ensured that our veterans, serving members of our armed forces and their families get the sort of recognition that they need. It is not disputed that we can do more, especially at local level. That is why, by the end of the day, I shall personally have topped and tailed a letter to every chief executive and every leader of every council in Great Britain. My next task is to write to every clinical commissioning group and hospital trust to ensure that we deliver on the covenant in the NHS as much as we are doing in government, and we now want to do it at local level.


Mr Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD)
T3. Returning to the question of the issuing of a national defence medal, will the Minister join me in paying tribute to my constituent, Mr Martin Halligan, who has done an inestimable and unstinting job on promoting the campaign for the medal nationally? Despite the review that has taken place, will she take on board the feeling expressed by many current and former service personnel that the issuing of such a medal would not undermine previous protocols and conventions or take away from specific acts of courage, leadership and honour, which are rightly recognised at present? [906935]

Anna Soubry
I certainly pay tribute to the work that has been done by my right hon. Friend’s constituent. I am sure that it is helpful in any event. There has been an independent review, however. Sir John Holmes has made his recommendation, and I am bound by the arguments that he has advanced against what my right hon. Friend is suggesting. I am not actually sure that the veteran community would agree with my right hon. Friend, but I am always willing to listen and if he wants to come and have a chat with me, I would welcome that.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con)
T5. Pupils from Corbridge middle school in my constituency are shortly to go to the world war one sites, under the battlefield tours programme. What support is the MOD giving to schools, charities and families whose ancestors were involved as we go forward with future commemorations? [906937]

Anna Soubry
Of course there are a number of schemes run and encouragements given, not just through the MOD, but through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which has been the main Department leading on all this. My hon. Friend makes a good and important point: the commemorations of the first world war continue right up until 2018. Let me just mention that this March we have the commemoration of the battle of Neuve Chapelle, which holds huge significance in both India and Britain. Later in the year, notably in April, we will remember all the events at Gallipoli, and we will be marking Anzac day on 25 April at the Cenotaph.