Service Complaints Commissioner (Annual Report): 12th May 2014

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD)
16. What assessment he has made of the findings of the recent annual report of the Service Complaints Commissioner. [903958]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Anna Soubry)
I pay tribute to the work of Dr Susan Atkins and all that she has done in her time as the Service Complaints Commissioner. She has identified continuing problems, but overall we have been making excellent progress. There is more that we can do and we have identified that. For example, we know that we need a service complaints ombudsman. We also need to change the system, which will require legislation, and we will do all of that as soon as we possibly can.

Duncan Hames
I thank the Minister for that reply, which shows that she understands the seriousness of these problems. The Service Complaints Commissioner’s report finds that the Army manages to resolve only a quarter of complaints within its target of 24 weeks. How will the move to a service complaints ombudsman prevent, in the words of Dr Atkins,

“a fundamental breach of duty of care and of the Armed Forces Covenant”?

Anna Soubry
The ombudsman will play a huge part in making sure that all our services, notably the Army, now really do improve their statistics, but there are other measures that we need to introduce by way of legislation. The system needs to change, and I am confident that the sorts of proposals that Dr Atkins has come up with, many of which, if not all of them, I support, as do others, will make the sort of progress that we really now must see.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
I add my thanks to Susan Atkins, who has done a great job in establishing the service complaints ombudsman. The Minister mentioned the ombudsman, and it was welcomed across the House when the Government announced that they would go down that route. Can the Minister tell me the exact time scale? Will legislative time be found in the next Session to ensure that the ombudsman is in place before the next general election?

Anna Soubry
I think we all know that I cannot say, even if I knew, whether any such legislative moves will be made in the Queen’s Speech.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab)
Give us a clue.

Anna Soubry
No, I will not give the hon. Gentleman a clue, as he urges me to do. These are serious matters. We have said that we recognise how important this is, we need legislation, and we will introduce that at the first available opportunity.