Antony Higginbotham MP spoke in the debate about the Armed Forces Bill on Monday night. Supporting the Bill which seeks to enshrine the Armed Forces Covenant into law and ensure that armed forces personal are not disadvantaged by their service when accessing key public services he said:
I am delighted to have been called to speak in this debate. Approving the continuation of the armed forces is one of our solemn duties in this House. They allow us as a country to sleep soundly at night, in the knowledge that a world-class organisation stands ready to defend us and our allies 24/7. In the past 12 months, we have seen the incredible reliance we have on the armed forces here in the UK, too. Without their expertise and manpower, we would not be where we are today in the fight against covid-19 and in the roll-out of the vaccine.
This legislation does not only renew our armed forces for another five years; it goes much further. It delivers on another manifesto promise to back our veterans and our active personnel properly. We have already established the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, ably led by the Minister. We introduced the railcard for veterans. We introduced legislation to end vexatious claims against our serving and former personnel. Through this legislation, we will enshrine the military covenant further into law. I thank Ministers and the Secretary of State for all their work to protect our armed forces.
The reason we need this legislation is that the support provided to veterans by local authorities is inconsistent at best. Although it might be excellent in some towns and cities, particularly those with long and deep histories of armed forces garrisons, in other areas it is lacking. The Bill will help to fix that gap by finally putting into law the obligation that authorities have to ensure that, on housing, education and healthcare, we stand by those who served our country. In doing this, let us encourage local authorities and public bodies to think about how the ecosystem of support that exists can be better integrated. Hundreds of charities and community groups do incredible work in all these areas. The Bill should be the catalyst we need to bring all that together and, rather than replacing activity, co-ordinate and enhance it, with the public, private and third sectors all working together for our former and current members of the armed forces. There are still too many instances of public bodies, local authorities and charities competing for funding, which means that they do not always work together even where that is in the best interests of veterans.
I believe that every area should have an armed forces champion, but if we cannot mandate that, let us give guidance on it and best practice, because even in those areas where that role exists, it is not always what we need it to be. It can be someone who shows the leadership needed to pull all the services together and act as a central point of contact. We should all be incredibly proud of this legislation, which demonstrates our enduring commitment to the armed forces and the whole family.