From today's House of Commons Debate on Defence of the UK. My bold.
[See later post for Hansard link]Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): May I say how pleased I am to contribute to this timely and important debate? No one can get away from the fact that our armed forces are under tremendous pressure at the momentânot just overseas, but in the UK....
...Like other hon. Members in their places today, I was privileged to be a member of the Select Committee that considered the Armed Forces Bill, which was good legislation. It went through a pre-legislative scrutiny phase in which many important issues were discussed in depth. I was pleased that, following the Blake report, the Government adapted the Bill to introduce a new armed forces commissioner...
26 Apr 2007 : Column 1099
In this media age, it is becoming quite clear that the men and women serving in our armed forces and their families will not sit back quietly and accept everything they are given. Instead, they will raise matters affecting the welfare of individuals and their families. I tabled new clause 23 to the Armed Forces Bill, although the Government did not accept it, which would have formed an armed forces federation. I am not proposing that there should be a trade union for the armed forces because that would be neither helpful, nor the way forward. However, there is increasing dissatisfaction about welfare issues, but, unfortunately, there is no mechanism through which people can express their views and get the recompense that some serving members of the armed forces and families deserve.
If hon. Members want an example, I suggest that they log on to the army rumour service website, which is very entertaining on occasions. Let me cite a recent post on the website. An ex-serviceman wrote:
âThere are ... an increasing number of aspects that impact on a soldierâs life that have little to do with the military. You will note the problems of debt, taxes, passport issues for our soldiers recruited from the commonwealth, family assistance issues; now, so heavily emphasisedâ.
The post recognises the pressures on family life that are caused by separation from family and loved ones. It continues:
âThese are not strictly military issues and go beyond the chain of command. It distresses me, a retired soldier, to see that in these areas over the past 30 years there has been no improvement.â
On 30 October 2006, the British Armed Forces Federation gained legal status as a company limited by guarantee. I would like the federation to be recognised as a body that can represent the views of men and women serving in the armed forces, and they should be allowed to join it. People say that that would be a radical step forward that would affect the chain of command, but our men and women are serving overseas in Afghanistan and other theatres with Australian and Dutch personnel and individuals from other international NATO partners, all of whom have similar types of federations.
The federation is carrying out important work by not only lobbying for improvements in housing, but giving personal legal advice on not just the compensation-culture end of the spectrum, but family matters at home. Such a range of services will increasingly be needed by a lot of members of our armed forces. I pay tribute to Douglas Young and others involved in the initiative. Sooner or later, this Government, or a future one, will have to recognise that we need a body that can be a vehicle for highlighting the problems faced by members of our armed forces and for expressing their anxieties. Such problems and anxieties will only increase as we ask our members of the armed forces to do more on our behalf in difficult situations.
We have already heard about accommodation, and the federationâs website shows that it is one of the most important issues to people. It is rather sad that media reports over the past few months have ignored the great work that has been done to put more money into accommodation for the armed forces...