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‘The character of our country is defined by how we respond to these moments’ says City MP on Afghanistan debate

Today (Wednesday 18 August 2021) Parliament was recalled to allow MPs to receive an update from the Government on the shocking and worsening situation in Afghanistan.

Speaking in the debate, Keir Starmer MP, Leader of the Opposition, said:

“20 years ago, the Taliban were largely in control of Afghanistan. Al Qaida were using the country as a training ground and a base for terror – including plotting the horrific 9/11 attack.

“There were widespread human rights abuses. Girls were denied an education, women could not work. Being gay was punishable by death. All imposed without democracy.

“Since then, a fragile democracy emerged.

“It was by no means perfect, but no international terrorist attacks have been mounted from Afghanistan in that period; women have gained liberty and won office; schools and clinics have been built. And Afghans have allowed themselves to dream of a better future.

“Those achievements were born of sacrifice. Sacrifice by the Afghan people who fought bravely alongside their NATO allies. And British sacrifice.

“Over 150,000 UK personnel have served in Afghanistan including Members across this House.”

Responding to the Prime Minister’s statement during the emergency debate, the Shadow Armed Forces Minister and Portsmouth South MP, Stephen Morgan, said:

I know many members of the Armed Forces Community in Portsmouth and further afield will be deeply distressed by the reports of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

“The sacrifices of British personnel, alongside the Afghan people and NATO allies, allowed for something that for many Afghans was not previously possible – to dream of a better future.

“Today the Prime Minister had the opportunity to reassure UK personnel who served in Afghanistan and worked to secure that future that their work will not be undone – but his statement offered little.

“The government’s failure is a dereliction of duty to the Afghan people, the 150,000 British personnel who served and the 457 who did not return home.

“What is happening in Afghanistan will have a profound impact on the mental health of many veterans, which we have known for some time is already in desperate need of addressing.

“This must be a wake-up call by Government to better understand, and better invest, in mental health support for our armed forces personnel and veterans.

“Keir Starmer was right today to say that mental health services for veterans must improve. The Prime Minister had little to say on the matter.

“I will be doing all I can to demand answers on what the government will be doing to address what I fear is an impending spike in mental health cases within the Armed Forces Community.

“I encourage any member of the Armed Forces Community who has been struggling with their mental health in recent days to contact Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion or All Call Signs, who will be on hand to provide the support that’s needed.

”You are not alone.”

In recent days the city MP has heard from many constituents with regards to the risks faced by UK nationals in Afghanistan, the implications of recent events on human rights and the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

The MP has already spoken with a number of local groups and the city council with regards to resettling Afghan families in the city and continues to help support this.

On the recently announced new resettlement scheme for Afghan refugees, the Portsmouth MP added:

“The latest resettlement scheme proposal by Government does not meet the scale of the challenge or complexities being faced, with the separate scheme for Afghan interpreters already far behind schedule.

“Not only does this risk leaving people in Afghanistan in deadly danger, it will also undermine the leadership role Britain must play in persuading international partners to live up to their responsibilities.

“In recent days, many of my constituents have shared with me their concerns for those fleeing the country in fear of persecution – or even death – seeking sanctuary in the UK. I will continue to help on these matters with the urgency they deserve.

“Soldiers and diplomats must be given the resources that they need and clear routes to safety must be established and expedited, both for Afghan refugees and those who have worked with Britain.”

Commenting on the Government’s lack of a plan to address the unfolding crisis, Stephen Morgan MP also said:

“The character of our country is defined by how we respond to these moments. We must now ensure our city and our country plays its part in providing a safe haven for families in need of safety. We all have a role to play and must be held to account – including the government.

“The scale of the refugee crisis will require an international response. 18.4 million people in Afghanistan already require humanitarian assistance and there is a real risk that this humanitarian disaster will get worse, particularly for women and girls.

“That response starts by the UK urgently ramping up humanitarian and development support for those who need it most and working with trusted partners who are already embedded in the country to deliver that vital support, so it reaches Afghans in need.

“With Portsmouth a proud city of sanctuary I know our communities will want to go above and beyond to help those needing support at this desperate time.”

 

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Local MP accuses Government of breaking its pledge to support veterans into work

Stephen Morgan MP has slammed the Government for breaking its pledge to help personnel, veterans and their families find work after they leave the Armed Forces. 

In 2019, the Government announced plans to employ 100 specialist advisers – or ‘Armed Forces Champions’ – in job centres across the country. But Ministers now admit that just half that number will be hired.

The change means that there will be just one Armed Forces Champion to support every 14,000 working age veterans into employment. And a single specialist adviser could be set to cover all 29 job centres in the local Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Isle of Wight area.

There are 121,472 veterans of working age in the South East Region.

The unemployment rate for veterans is 7%, almost double level for the general population at 4.8%. In just Portsmouth alone, there are 5,083 veterans of working age.

Ministers have faced criticism from Labour and Service charities that their Armed Forces Bill doesn’t provide any further assistance to Forces personnel, veterans and their families to gain employment. The Government told its MPs to vote against a Labour amendment to widen the scope of the Bill at Report Stage to include provisions to support veterans into work.

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

“It is clear that Forces personnel, veterans and their families in Portsmouth need more support to find work, yet the Government has broken its pledge to provide specialist advice.

“This is yet another example of Ministers failing to match their words with action.

“That’s why I will be taking action to ensure the government is held to account for breaking its promise and will be pushing to see what it will be doing to remedy it as soon as possible.

“Labour will always honour the commitments of the Armed Forces Covenant. This government is treating it with contempt.”

Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, John Healey, also said:

“Ministers are failing our Forces personnel and veterans. They have outstanding skills from their military service but many need help to get civilian employers to see their talents or to deal with problems in getting work.

“Labour want to see Ministers do more to support our veterans get work and successful civilian careers.”

 

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Government botches British tender process for naval support ships

Labour have today slammed the government for their failure to prioritise UK yards and suppliers to make naval support ships, after their delivery was delayed because of a botched tender process.

The tender for the naval support ships was cancelled in 2019 after the government’s shipbuilding tsar, Sir John Parker, recommended a UK-only tender.

It has since been reopened with the government specifying the successful bidder must be ‘led by a British company,’ but with the tender still silent on what proportion of the contract’s value will be reserved for UK yards and suppliers.

According to the GMB, the union for shipbuilding and ship repair workers, the contract notice suggests the project has already been delayed two years.

GMB have also called for a guarantee that the long-awaited Fleet Solid Support contract will be built in UK yards and use UK supply chains.

Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan said:

“The Prime Minister has made a lot of promises to our Navy and to British industry, but once again this government refuses to put its money where its mouth is.

“Building the Fleet Solid Support Ships in Britain is a no-brainer. Aside from the obvious security benefits it will provide the steady drumbeat of building needed to create jobs and sustain homegrown industry.

“It is baffling how much time and money this government is willing to waste, when instead it could be following Labour’s call to buy, make and sell more in Britain.”

 

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Portsmouth MP urges Ministers to swiftly address ‘all time low’ mental health provision for troops

Stephen Morgan MP urged ministers at departmental defence questions in the House of Commons today to review the ‘all time low’ mental health services provision for forces personnel.

Government figures show that the number of service personnel being seen by the MoD’s Specialist Mental Health Services for an initial assessment has fallen by 36% since 2013 – the lowest it has ever been.

The figures raise questions as to why over fewer Forces personnel are being seen by the MOD’s Specialist Mental Health Services each year than there were nearly a decade ago.

The Government set out in its Defence People Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2017-2022 the aim that Forces personnel have “timely access to safe, effective and innovative mental healthcare services”.

Yet since the strategy was launched, the number of Forces personnel being assessed and treated by the Specialist Mental Health Services annually has fallen by 1900 from 5,083 in 2016/17 to just 3,156. Just 1 in 50 are now assessed by the MOD mental health service.

The news comes as the Armed Forces Bill, which Mr Morgan is leading the Official Opposition’s response on, returns to the Commons next week on Tuesday. The Bill contains provisions to try and improve mental health support for Forces personnel. Labour wants to force the Government to review all current mental health provisions for Forces personnel.

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

“It cannot be right that just after the passing of Armed Forces Day, service personnel are still being failed by this government in providing effective mental health services.

“Service personnel are now more willing to seek help to support their mental health, but the government is once again letting them down. Labour’s commitment to support our Armed Forces is an enduring year-round promise, not just when it is politically convenient. This government is big on rhetoric, but short on delivery.

“I will continue to demand the services our troops deserve from Ministers and will urge them again next week at the final reading of the Armed Forces Bill in the Commons to review all current mental health provisions for Forces personnel.”

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Armed Forces Day event celebrates service past and present

Shadow Armed Forces and Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan was joined by Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey, veterans, and Navy cadets for a tour of Portsmouth’s historic dockyard on restored landing craft to celebrate Armed Forces Day.

Veterans from the Second World War, the Falklands and the first Gulf War were joined by 12 cadets and three adult volunteers from 6 Royal Naval and Royal Marines Volunteer Cadet Corps based in Whale Island, HMS Sultan in Gosport and HMS Collingwood in Fareham.

Politicians, veterans and cadets boarded the restored F8 landing craft, used in the Falklands, HSL102, which rescued airmen during the Battle of Britain, and MGB81, used at Normandy on D-Day.

They then toured around the harbour, taking in sights of Portsmouth’s historic dockyard, before landing on the slipway.

Joe Cattini was one of the veterans in attendance. Now 98, Mr Cattini served with the Royal Artillery during the Second World War, including D-Day and the liberation of France, Belgium and Holland.

Originally formed at Eastney Barracks in 1901, the Volunteer Cadet Corps celebrated its 120th birthday in February 2021.

Portsmouth South MP and Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan said:

“I am delighted to be honouring the service of personnel past and present in the home and heart of the Royal Navy this Armed Forces Day.

“We stand squarely behind our armed forces. The enduring example of service and duty set by those I have met today should be celebrated all year round, not just this week.

“That’s why we’ve launched our veteran’s survey and why Labour has put forward amendments to the Armed Forces Bill to make real improvements in the day-to-day lives of our forces.

“The Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust have been instrumental in bringing this event together. I’d like to thank their brilliant staff and pay tribute to their ongoing efforts to preserve our City’s strong naval and military history.”

Shadow Secretary of State for Defence John Healey said:

“Our Armed Forces work to protect the country and keep us all safe, theirs is the ultimate public service. They’ve played an essential part in helping the nation through the Covid crisis and Labour is proud that British Forces are respected worldwide for their all-round excellence – training allies, fighting terrorism, securing open seas, peacekeeping in conflicts.

“Armed Forces Week is a special week when we can all say a special ‘thank you’ for the service and sacrifice of our Forces, their families and veterans.”

Hannah Prowse, CEO of Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust, said:

“We are honoured to be the custodians of this part of Portsmouth’s naval heritage.  The civilian story of the support for our armed forces – exemplified by the Dockyard – can not be underestimated.  We are justly proud of the role played by the men and women of the armed forces – and by the families, businesses and communities that support them.”

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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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Portsmouth MP pays tribute to local Falklands war veterans on 39th anniversary of its end

Stephen Morgan MP has paid tribute to local Falklands war veterans in Portsmouth today on the 39th anniversary of its end.

A total of 255 British servicemen and three female civilians were killed liberating the Falklands. 649 Argentines were also killed.

Portsmouth played a key role in the war, with the Falklands war Task Force prepared by local dock workers at speed, prior to its launch from the Naval city on April 5th, 1982.

The Task Force was composed of 100 ships, carrying a reinforced 3 Commando Brigade with 2nd and 3rd Battalions, The Parachute Regiment attached, along with other units including a reinforced Troop from The Blues and Royals, under the command of Brigadier Julian Thompson.

Shadow Armed Forces Minister and member of parliament for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, commented,

“Nearly forty years on from the end of the Falklands war, we reflect on the incredible efforts and sacrifices made by our city to protect British civilians overseas.”

“From the dock workers who prepared the task force ships at speed, to the service personnel who both risked and sadly gave their lives to defend Britons, we all owe them an incredible debt.”

“On the 39th anniversary of the war’s end, we pay tribute to them all and honour the memory of those who did not return home.”

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Government visa fee proposals for Commonwealth veterans to help just one in ten

Proposals to waive visa fees for non-UK service personnel would help just 10% of those who left the Army last year, statistics from the Ministry of Defence reveal.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a public consultation this week (26 May) on proposals which would waive visa fees for those who had served 12 years or more.

But figures from the MoD suggest that this would apply to just 20 of the 200 non-UK personnel who left the Regulars in 2019/20, with the majority serving between 4 and 11 years.

The average length of service for all UK armed forces leavers has been about 10 years since 2015.

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.

The proposed changes also do not apply to family members of those who have served or those who have been medically discharged, meaning they will only help a minority of those affected.

Labour has said the proposals are “frankly insulting” and called the government to extend the fee waiver to all of those who have served four years or more.

Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan MP said:

“Commonwealth service personnel have contributed an enormous amount to our national defence and we owe them a debt of gratitude.

“Extortionate visa fees have left non-UK veterans facing financial ruin and feeling abandoned by the country they have served with courage and distinction.

“The government’s long-overdue proposals are frankly insulting, and will continue to prevent non-UK personnel from living in the country they have fought for.

“Commonwealth veterans have already paid for their citizenship once with their service to our country. This government shouldn’t be making them pay twice.”

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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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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.