Dr Julian Lewis: Printed at the beginning of every annual report on the Armed Forces Covenant made by the Secretary of State for Defence is the following statement:
“The first duty of Government is the defence of the realm. Our Armed Forces fulfil that responsibility on behalf of the Government, sacrificing some civilian freedoms, facing danger and, sometimes, suffering serious injury or death as a result of their duty. Families also play a vital role in supporting the operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces. In return, the whole nation has a moral obligation to the members of the Naval Service, the Army and the Royal Air Force, together with their families.”
Clause 8 places a duty on organisations throughout the UK to give what is termed “due regard” to the main principles of the Armed Forces Covenant. The bodies affected include local authorities, health authorities, education authorities and housing authorities in particular. These principles – the unique obligations and sacrifices by the armed forces, the desirability of removing disadvantages arising from membership or former membership of the Armed Forces, and the special provision for Service people that may be justified by the effects of membership or former membership of the Armed Forces – already lie on the Secretary of State himself. It is interesting to see, in the short time available, what the reports that he makes every year on the Armed Forces Covenant have said about issues such as the war-damaged, the war-widowed and the war-targeted for repeated reinvestigation.
On the question of the war widows, the issue of the 200 to 260 war widows who lost their war widow’s pension on cohabitation or remarriage has been raised many times by me. In these reports, the Government show again and again that they are well-seized of the injustice and, indeed, impropriety of having been unable to restore those pensions to those widows. It is good that the reports show that the Government are persisting in this, and they should persist.
Less attention is given in the reports to the problems arising for so many veterans from having been injured by blast on active service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Something called traumatic brain injury, and in particular the blast variant, has been mentioned only once in the annual reports, yet it has been shown time and again that more attention needs to be paid to it, because the resulting symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for post-traumatic stress disorder and, as a result, gravely incorrect treatment can be given. More attention needs to be paid to that.
On the question of prosecutions, it is fascinating to see successive comments in the Secretary of State’s annual reports, starting with one in 2018 that noted, quite rightly, that
“There is a growing strength of feeling within Parliament and elsewhere that our Service Personnel and Veterans should be afforded greater legal protection from prosecutions related to historical operations than they currently receive.”
Time and again, the Secretary of State makes it perfectly clear that he totally agrees with that. The only point that needs to be expressed, and which cannot be emphasised too strongly to Ministers, who I know are determined to protect our Servicemen, is that they must not only protect them from prosecution; they must protect them from vexatious reinvestigation.