This week, the Select Committee on the Armed Forces bill held it's final evidence session, before the committee begins line-by-line scrutiny of the bill.
Wednesday 24th March
The session first focused on veterans’ healthcare and included questions on mental health provisions. The Committee then focused on the provisions within the Armed Forces Bill and looked at potential inequities in the enforcement of the duty of due regard and the continued jurisdiction of the Court Martial in serious offences.
This session gave the committee a chance to hear from Government ministers. We heard from Nadine Dorries MP, Minister of State for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety and Johnny Mercer MP, Minister for Defence People and Veterans. We also heard from senior civil servants in the Ministry of Defence.
In the part of the session that focussed on healthcare, one of the talking points was the Veteran's Trauma Network. I asked one of the healthcare professionals if the Armed Forces Bill could be used to further support the network's objectives. This is what she said:
"Yes. The veterans trauma network was established for the veterans who have the most significant health needs. Prior to having that, we recognised that veterans weren’t perhaps having the services wrapped around them, and they were having to visit various different elements. Yes, I think it would be great to have the veterans trauma network wrapped within this. We are in our first year of delivering this in Wales, so we are still learning—as I said, it has been an abnormal year—but it is great that the veterans can have more services locally. I think that is really important."
In the second part of the session, we heard from senior civil servants in the Ministry of Defence. The main topic covered here was statutory guidance. As a Committee, we have written to the Minister for clarity on what the statutory guidance will include, but we have still not received a reply. We were told at the session that the statutory guidance is currently in draft, and won't be published until the bill reaches royal assent. I asked about this below.
In the final part of the session, we heard from Johnny Mercer MP, minister for defence people and veterans. This was an opportunity to discuss the reasoning behind some of the clauses in the bill draw attention to some of the comments made in the evidence sessions.
In a previous session, we had heard from representatives from outside the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence, who supported the idea that some of the most serious offences, like rape, in the armed forces could be tried in civilian courts, rather than the military justice system. However, the bill maintains the jurisdiction of the court martial for serious cases committed in the UK. I asked the Minister why:
In Thursday's session we went through the bill line-by-line.
There are parts of the bill that I, and Labour, support, but there are also some gaps:
Next week, there will be formal consideration, before the drafting of the Special Report starts.
Information and Support
You can find out more about Wednesday's session, and watch it in full here
The Armed Forces Bill is available to read here
The Royal British Legion
Help for Heroes
Veterans Wales (Swansea Bay University Health Board contacts)
Swansea Council's Councillor Champion for the Armed Forces - Cllr.Wendy.Lewis@swansea.gov.uk