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Armed Forces Week: Labour launches veterans survey ahead of key debate in Parliament

Labour has launched a veterans survey for members of the Armed Forces community in Portsmouth and across the country today, ahead of a key debate in Parliament when Stephen Morgan MP led the party’s efforts to secure improvements to the government’s Armed Forces Bill.

The survey will gather the views of veterans, veterans’ charities and support groups on the quality of support that is already in place and additional support that could be given to make sure that no veterans are left behind.

The consultation has been launched as the Commons today debates the Armed Forces Bill, where Labour will accuse the government of cutting help for veterans and failing on their pledge to Forces personnel to put the Armed Forces Covenant, a charter designed to ensure the Armed Forces and their families are treated fairly, fully into law.

Labour will also look to widen the scope of the Armed Forces Bill to deliver on the promises of the Covenant in areas like employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice and immigration; address the scandal of visa fees for Commonwealth veterans; and improve service justice by pushing for rape and serious offences to be tried in civilian courts.

Under current rules, Commonwealth personnel face a fee of £2,389 per person to continue to live in the UK after having served at least four years. It means that someone with a partner and two children could face a bill of almost £10,000 to stay in Britain.

Service charities are also concerned that the scope of the Bill is too narrow, containing nothing specific on issues like employment. Labour will be pushing to widen the scope of the legislation to ensure that all areas of potential disadvantage are addressed and end the ‘postcode lottery’ on veteran’s access to services.

During his speech in the House of Commons debate today, the Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South and Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan, is expected to say:

“The Bill piles new and vague legal responsibilities to deliver the Covenant on a wide range of public bodies, but mysteriously these do not apply to central government.

“In practice, this would create a farcical reality where the chair of school governors has a legal responsibility to have ‘due regard’ to the Armed Forces Covenant, but government departments – including the Ministry of Defence – would not.

“As the Legion themselves have pointed out: ‘many of the policy areas in which members of the Armed Forces community experience difficulty are the responsibility of national government or based on national guidance.’

“Ministers must not be allowed to outsource the delivery of the important promises of the Armed Forces Covenant.

“The Bill’s limited focus on housing, healthcare and education risks creating a ‘two-tier’ Covenant.

“This could start a race to the bottom on standards in other areas and will bake in the existing postcode lottery on access to services.

“Social care, pensions, employment and immigration are among the long list of areas we know will not be covered by this once-in-a-Parliament piece of legislation as it stands.

“The exclusion of the Ministry of Defence in the responsible public bodies also means the Bill offers little to actively serving personnel – who have gone above and beyond to support our frontline response to the pandemic in the past year.

“Labour’s amendments 1 – 4 would force Ministers to take the same legal responsibility for delivering the promises of the Covenant as they are placing on other public bodies.”

On issues relating to Commonwealth veterans, it is expected he will say:

“Labour’s amendment would see those who have served more than four years pay only the cost price for their application for ILR. That’s 234 pounds, down from 2,389 pounds.

“That’s a 90% reduction and a long-overdue step towards ensuring these veterans can live in the country they have fought for.

“The new Veterans Minister proudly supported similar proposals as a backbencher. In 2019 he signed a letter with more than 60 Conservative MPs urging the then Chancellor to drop the fees.

“Our amendment New Clause 7 gives the Minister the chance to deliver on his promise to these veterans.”

The Portsmouth MP, added:

“As a nation we have a responsibility to all of our citizens; particularly those who put their lives at risk to keep us safe. 

One veteran who doesn’t get the support they need is one too many. We cannot let anyone slip through the cracks.

“That’s why this Armed Forces Week I am launching Labour’s local veterans’ survey in Portsmouth to hear from local veterans and veterans’ charities about their experiences – as I continue today to work to secure the support they deserve from the government’s Armed Forces Bill.”

The debate for the Armed Forces Bill will be taking place this afternoon in the House of Commons.

To complete the survey visit: https://action.labour.org.uk/page/84779/data/1

 

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Shadow Armed Forces Minister marks D-Day anniversary with Portsmouth veterans at Historic Dockyard

Stephen Morgan MP has marked this year’s 77th D-Day anniversary with local Second World War veterans at the city’s Historic Dockyard, after paying his respects at the Portsmouth D-Day memorial.

The local war heroes arrived at the dockyard in the newly restored local landing craft, where the Portsmouth MP and others were set to greet them.

D-Day was the largest invasion ever assembled and landed 156,000 Allied troops by sea and air on five beachheads in Normandy, France.

It was the start of Allied operations which would ultimately liberate Western Europe, defeat Nazi Germany and end the Second World War.

The Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South and Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan MP, said:

“With a grandfather who was a D-Day veteran, it is particularly important for me to ensure we never forget the incredible bravery and sacrifice of our veterans, who risked so much to secure peace and the freedoms of many across Europe.

“77 years on, I was glad to be able to spend the day with some of Portsmouth’s second world war veterans and thank for them for their service to our country. We owe them a huge debt.”

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Portsmouth MP pays tribute to lost crew of HMS Hood on 80th anniversary

Stephen Morgan MP has paid tribute to the crew of HMS Hood who lost their lives 80 years ago after it was destroyed by German battleship Bismarck in the Denmark Strait on May 24, 1941.

Many of the ship’s crew came from Portsmouth, but their memory continues to be honoured by HMS Hood Association, which ran its #shinealight campaign to remember the local heroes who were killed 80 years ago.

The Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, said,

“Today we remember the 1415 crew of HMS Hood who sadly lost their lives after it was destroyed by the German battleship Bismarck in the Denmark Strait on May 24, 1941.

“Many of these men came from Portsmouth, but never returned. 80 years on, we honour their memory.”

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HMS Queen Elizabeth deploys: City MP pays tribute

For centuries, our city has been a cornerstone of our country’s defence and security.

Our naval history is something we all look back on with immense pride. It is a rich tapestry of significant moments: from as early as 1670 when Portsmouth Dockyard was first established by Charles II in the early formation of the Royal Navy, all the way through to 1998, when the Labour government gave the green light to two new, bigger and more versatile carriers in a watershed moment for UK defence and security.

Soon, we will witness another important milestone in both our city’s and our country’s history, as the largest of these two carriers sets sail on her maiden voyage around the world from HMNB Portsmouth.

Covering over 26,000 nautical miles, alongside our friends from the US and Holland, on her voyage she will be working with Britain’s allies from all over the world, including, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, Japan, UAE, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Israel, India, Oman and South Korea.

Providing a cutting edge on the carrier’s flight deck will be eight state-of-the-art RAF F-35B Lightning II fast jets. Alongside will be four Wildcat maritime attack helicopters, seven Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine helicopters and three Merlin Mk4 commando helicopters – the greatest quantity of helicopters assigned to a single UK Task Group in a decade. A remarkable accomplishment.

Weighing in at 65,000 tonnes, HMS Queen Elizabeth is the most powerful surface vessel in the Royal Navy’s history and the Carrier strike Britain will be leading will be the largest concentration of maritime and air power in a generation.

Longer than parliament and taller than Nelson’s column, this is the best of British engineering. She was built across six dockyards – Appledore, Birkenhead, Govan, Rosyth, Tyne, and of course Portsmouth – bringing together a combined effort of over ten thousand British men and women to piece her together.

I want to thank them and the crew who will be joining the Carrier Strike Group on this historic voyage, and I know I speak for all of us in wishing them the best of luck and a safe journey.

Stephen Morgan MP

 

 

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Ministers shirk responsibility to deliver for Armed Forces in once-in-a-Parliament legislation

A cross-party group of MPs has raised concerns that government Ministers are outsourcing their responsibility for serving personnel and veterans in a report published today.

The Armed Forces Bill is set to make local authorities and other public bodies legally responsible for delivering the promises in the Armed Forces Covenant. But services provided by central government functions – including the Ministry of Defence – are currently exempt.

Service charities have raised concerns that long-standing problems for service communities will not be covered by the legislation in practice, including service accommodation, social care and visa fees for commonwealth troops.

General Sir John McColl, Chief Executive of Cobseo, said: “There is a moral requirement for Government to comply with the Covenant. That is fine as long as it works, but in some cases it absolutely does not work.”

General Sir John raised the ongoing plight of commonwealth veterans, who are forced to pay eye-watering fees to remain in the country they have served. The Royal British Legion estimates that up to 300 people per year are affected.

The Royal British Legion’s Laura Pett said: “The fact that only certain aspects of housing, healthcare and education—namely, those that are not the responsibility of the Secretary of State—are also omitted is further cause for concern.”

The National Audit Office has found that thousands of armed forces personnel were living in sub-standard accommodation.

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation conceding that “too many” were affected by problems with heating and hot water in evidence to the Committee.

At present the Bill would do nothing to address this crucial issue, which 26% of tri-service personnel say increases their likelihood of leaving service.

The Defence Secretary mysteriously vetoed the Committee’s planned virtual visit to service accommodation at the last moment.

Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan MP said:

“This government is missing a once-in-a-Parliament opportunity to make real improvements to the lives of service personnel, veterans and their families.

“The Armed Forces Covenant should represent a binding commitment to service communities. They will see straight through this government’s attempt to outsource responsibility for delivering it.

“In a year where our armed forces have stepped up to support frontline efforts to tackle the Coronavirus as well as their ongoing commitments abroad, it simply isn’t good enough.

“Ministers should listen to the concerns raised in this report and strengthen the Bill when it returns to the Commons and deliver on their repeated promises of support for our forces”.  

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Shadow Defence Minister: Armed Forces Bill risks reinforcing “postcode lottery” on services for veterans

Stephen Morgan MP urged Ministers to hear service charity concerns that the Armed Forces Bill will reinforce the “postcode lottery” veterans face when accessing services.

Speaking in the House of Commons following the publication of a cross-party report, Mr Morgan said the Bill’s narrow focus on housing, healthcare and education, risked creating a “two-tier” Covenant and a race to the bottom on standards in those areas left out.

In practice, this means many long-standing problems facing armed forces, veterans and their families will remain unaddressed. Social care, pensions, employment and immigration are among the long list of areas witnesses told the Committee will not be covered by this once-in-a-Parliament piece of legislation.

The Confederation of Service Charities Chair General Sir John McColl specifically highlighted the eyewatering visa fees that Commonwealth veterans face as an instance where the government’s current “moral requirement” to comply with the Covenant “absolutely does not work”.

The government has also not included the Lyons Review recommendation that civilian courts should have full jurisdiction over murder, rape and serious sexual offences committed in the UK. In evidence to the Committee, Judge Lyons said he was “surprised” to find the most serious cases being tried in the service justice system and argued that this had not been Parliament’s original intent.

Stephen Morgan MP, Shadow Armed Forces Minister and Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, commented:

“The government must listen to concerns raised by MPs of all parties and service charities that this Bill will not address long-standing issues for service communities.  

“Following input from across the sector and service communities themselves, government must now listen to the recommendations outlined in our report today.

“Labour will continue speaking up for our Armed Forces, veterans and their families, and ensure that the promises in the Covenant are delivered for all of the nation’s service personnel.”

Mr Morgan has been leading the Official Opposition’s response to the Armed Forces Bill during its passage through Parliament.

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Shadow Armed Forces Minister helps force vote on government’s ‘broken promise’ to Armed Forces

Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan MP challenged the government in the House of Commons today for breaking its promise to not cut troop numbers, which was confirmed in the Defence Command Paper published last month.

The Portsmouth MP was speaking at the despatch box in the opposition day debate in Parliament today before a vote on the government’s decision to renege on its commitment to the Armed Forces.

The Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper confirmed that the Army will be further reduced to just 72,500 by 2025, smaller than at any time since the 1700s.

It has also been reported in The Times, but omitted in the Defence Command Paper, that the Royal Marines are set to lose 400 posts, from 6,500 to 6,100.

Meanwhile, the RAF is also expected to lose 300 personnel by 2025, with full-time personnel currently at 1,850.

It comes as 45,000 personnel have been cut since 2010.

The Shadow Defence Minister and Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, commented:

“The government’s track record speaks for itself: a decade of decline for personnel numbers and investment in defence; a strategic defence plan that does not clearly match capabilities to current and future threats; broken promises to our Armed Forces.

“The defence of the realm is the first priority of any government, but this one is playing fast and loose with our country’s strategic security plans and its commitments on defence spending.

“Labour is determined to ensure our country can protect itself properly, now and in the future, which is why the Official Opposition is forcing a vote in Parliament today on this important issue.”

Mr Morgan last month labelled the plans to cut personnel numbers by 10,000 a ‘mistake’, following the Defence Command Paper’s publication.

He also suggested government was taking a ‘significant gamble’ on defence capabilities, after the publication of the government’s Integrated Review, which was also published in March.

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Labour calls on the government to invest in and secure British jobs ​for the defence sector

The Official Opposition is demanding greater protection of jobs in the defence sector by calling on the government to adopt a ‘British-built by default’ approach, intended to boost manufacturing within the UK supply chain, a move welcomed by Portsmouth South’s Stephen Morgan MP.

Labour says a new threshold is needed for equipment to be sourced outside of the UK, requiring proof that defence projects cannot be built under similar terms in Britain.

In addition, the Party is calling on ministers to report annually on the proportion of defence spending going through British companies, and to improve procurement rules to promote prosperity in supply chain businesses throughout the UK’s towns, regions, and industries such as steel.

The Party accuse the Conservative government of br​eaking promises ​made to the Armed Forces and wasting taxpayer money through its decade-long policy of ‘open competition by default’ that has seen the UK buying off-the–shelf defence equipment from overseas.

New analysis by Labour shows:  

  • Over £6 billion of allocated spending in government’s Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper is going on off-the-shelf purchases of surveillance aircraft from overseas.
  • A naval contract worth £1.5 billion for Fleet Support Ships has been unfulfilled since 2018, due to Ministerial indecision ​about making the contract British-led.
  • 30,000 defence industry jobs lost since 2010 under the Conservatives

Keir Starmer MP, Leader of the Labour Party said:

“Prioritising British businesses through defence spending is not only investment in jobs, but in our communities, and a more secure economy.  

“Under this Prime Minister, we have seen broken promises and dither and delay, at the expense of UK supply chain businesses and taxpayer’s money.  

“We cannot go back to business as usual. Labour will protect jobs in the defence sector, harness the skills and talents of our workers, and will deliver value for money for British people, to ensure a prosperous recovery out of the pandemic.” 

John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, added:

“The Prime Minister has already broken promises made to military personnel by cutting 10,000 posts in the Army.

“On the Tories’ watch, we have also lost tens of thousands of jobs across the industry and wasted time on key contracts.  

“Of course, there will be essential equipment or systems which makes strategic sense for Britain to develop with allies or to buy direct from overseas, but we want to see a much higher bar for this”.

Stephen Morgan, Shadow Armed Forces Minister and Portsmouth South MP, added:

“We know only too well here in Portsmouth that when done well, defence spending has a multiplier effect, strengthening our UK economy. That’s why I have been calling on the Government for some time to build more Naval ships in Britain.

“Covid has exposed the risks of relying on foreign supply chains.

“I welcome Keir Starmer’s contribution to this debate. Labour’s ‘British by default’ policy would help secure vital jobs in Portsmouth as our city recovers from the pandemic as well as strengthen the UK’s sovereignty and security.” 

 

 

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‘Defence jobs are vital to Luton’s recovery’ – MPs meet with defence firm 

Labour’s Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan MP, visited Luton to meet with bosses at defence firm, Leonardo. The international company employs 1000 people at their Luton site, contributing 8% share local jobs in Luton’s manufacturing sector. 

Accompanied by Council Leader, Hazel Simmons, and Luton South MP, Rachel Hopkins, the Shadow Minister sat down with the electronic aerospace, defence and security developers to discuss the £123 million contribution the firm makes to the area.

Stephen Morgan MP, the Shadow Armed Forces Minister, said:

“It was fantastic to visit Leonardo to hear more about its work to support Luton during the pandemic and its wider contribution to the local economy. 

“Hazel and Rachel have done a tremendous job working with local business to ensure the jobs-based recovery Luton needs and is an excellent example of Labour working constructively with industry to achieve that wider national objective.”

Council Leader, Hazel Simmons MBE, said:

“I am really proud of the positive relationship that Luton Council has built with Leonardo.   

“Their well-developed apprenticeship scheme attracts young people from across the Borough, and it was great to meet with executives to learn more about how we can boost highly skilled, well paid jobs here in Luton. These are the jobs that will help Luton bounce back after Covid.”  

Luton South MP, Rachel Hopkins, added

“Leonardo is an important part of Luton’s manufacturing sector, and it was positive to hear about their apprenticeship schemes, support for women in STEM, and how they moved into making PPE to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic. 

Luton’s recovery must have good, well-paid jobs at its heart. Labour is committed to working with Trade Unions and businesses to help rebuild our economy.” 

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Shadow Defence Minister calls for views of service personnel, veterans and their families on Armed Forces Bill

Portsmouth South’s Stephen Morgan MP has called for service personnel, veterans and their families, as well as civilians subject to service law, to share their views on the Armed Forces Bill currently working its way through Parliament.

A cross-party Select Committee has issued a survey seeking views on the proposed Bill to inform the Committee’s inquiry, and help improve life for the armed forces community.

Among other things, the Bill proposes a legal responsibility for public bodies to give ‘due regard’ to the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant when accessing public services such as housing, healthcare and education.

Labour has criticised the Bill for being too weak, and that proposals would do little to correct the many ways in which service personnel are disadvantaged.

The Official Opposition is also pushing the government to clarify why it has not adopted Lyons’ recommendation that civilian courts should have jurisdiction in matters of murder, rape and serious sexual offences committed in the UK.

The Shadow Armed Forces Minister, who is leading Labour’s response to the Bill, Stephen Morgan MP, said,

“With this Bill the government risks creating a two-tier covenant and a race to the bottom on services for our forces communities across the country.

“But it also fails to deliver urgent service justice reforms to improve the number of cases tried related to the most serious of crimes, such as murder, rape and sexual offences.

“It’s critical that the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee get the clearest understanding of what people connected to Armed Services see as a priority and the best way to do that is by responding to this survey.

“I encourage Portsmouth people to speak loud and clearly to Government in how life can be improved for service personnel, veterans and their families by completing this important survey.”

To complete the survey click here. The deadline for responses is Monday 5 April 5 PM and takes roughly five minutes to complete.