This evening (8th February) I spoke virtually in the House of Commons about the Armed Forces Bill that was having its second reading.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of the Armed Forces Covenant, a promise by the nation to ensure that those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces and their families continue to be treated with fairness and respect in the communities they serve.
The Armed Forces Bill will enshrine the Armed Forces Covenant in law and help prevent service personnel and veterans being disadvantaged when accessing services like healthcare, education and housing.
This Bill delivers for our Service People and Veterans by, for the first time ever, creating a legal obligation for certain public bodies across the whole of the UK to pay due regard to the principles of the Covenant when providing Housing, Healthcare and Education. These issues are of prime importance to our serving and former members of the Armed Forces and their families and are commonly raised areas for concern by members of the Armed Forces Community. This Bill represents a significant milestone providing a firm legal foundation for the Covenant that we can build on.
By enshrining the Armed Forces Covenant into law we can ensure all UK Armed Forces personnel, veterans and their families are treated fairly while accessing key public services such as healthcare, education or housing – meaning no matter where they live in the UK they will be able to access public services with ease.
The Bill will also help deliver a series of improvements to the Service Justice System, ensuring personnel have a clear, fair and effective route to justice wherever they are operating. These include:
- providing clearer guidance for prosecutors on how serious crimes committed by service personnel in the UK should be handled, placing a Duty on the Director of Service Prosecutions and the Director of Public Prosecutions to agree a protocol where there is concurrent jurisdiction to provide clearer guidance to assist those independent decisions
- creating an independent body to oversee complaints, overseen by a Service Police Complaints Commissioner who will ensure there is an independent line of redress if someone is dissatisfied with the outcome of a complaint
- making the complaints system more efficient by bringing the time given to personnel to lodge an appeal in line with timings offered in the private sector.
In my time as your Member of Parliament I have had the chance to visit successful schemes that support our veterans. These include the veterans hub in Wigan and Healthier Heroes CIC who operate in Burnley, both of whom I would like to thank for their tremendous efforts in providing excellent, dedicated support to veterans. I will continue to fight to secure an armed forces hub in Bury to provide support to those in our area who have served our country. Bury has a long history of ties to the armed forces and we must commit ourselves to providing the support needed for those who have served.