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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 04 December 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Thyroid and Adrenal Testing, Diagnosis and Treatment, Veterans, Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, Point of Order, Decision Time, Autistic Children’s Experiences of School


Contents


Veterans

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15016, in the name of Graeme Dey, on a strategy for our veterans: taking it forward in Scotland.

15:38  

The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans (Graeme Dey)

I am pleased to open this afternoon’s debate, in which we will consider how we support our armed forces and veterans community in Scotland. I advise the chamber that it is my intention to accept all three amendments.

Just over a month ago, my colleague the Minister for Mental Health and I jointly facilitated a debate to update the chamber on the Government’s response to the latest report from the Scottish veterans commissioner and to explore a number of other issues. Many members who are here today took part in that debate, in which they shared their connections with the armed forces, personal reflections from their constituencies and views on the support available. It was evident that there continues to be a widespread commitment from across the chamber to improving support. A number of helpful ideas were aired, and I hope that today’s debate will be similarly constructive.

Since that debate, we have marked the centenary of the first world war armistice. I had the honour of representing the Scottish Government at several events, including the opening of the Edinburgh garden of remembrance, Glasgow’s service of remembrance and the festival of remembrance in Dundee. It was humbling to see so many people attend the laying of wreaths to pay their respects; the ceremonies will live long in my memory. Colleagues across the chamber will have seen similarly touching events in their own areas.

Having had that period of remembrance, we now turn to the future. We should rightly be proud of our long history of support here in Scotland in the face of changing demand and better understanding of the needs of our veterans and their families. It is time to take stock, consider how we best respond to the changed landscape and then act.

Last month, therefore, I was pleased to launch the UK-wide “Strategy for our Veterans” alongside ministers from the United Kingdom and Welsh Governments and representatives from Northern Ireland. The strategy was developed jointly across all four home nations, and represents a fully collaborative approach to achieving what is best for our veterans across the whole of the UK.

While the strategy is overarching and in some regards requires collaborative working between Governments, there is scope to tailor services to meet specific requirements in each of the nations. It sets out that we expect to see a change in demographics. Over the next 10 years, we are likely to see a generational shift in the veterans community, which will be as relevant in Scotland as it is elsewhere in the UK. That will change how we need to focus our efforts, and to that end the planned inclusion of a question on veterans in the 2021 census will be key. Today, nearly half the veterans in the UK are more than 75 years old. However, we also have cohorts of veterans who have served more recently and have different needs and expectations.

The strategy therefore sets out the vision and principles that will focus our support for all veterans over the 10 years to 2028 and beyond. It aims to make sure that

“Those who have served in the UK Armed Forces, and their families, transition smoothly back into civilian life and contribute fully to a society that understands and values what they have done and what they have to offer.”

Further, the strategy looks to fully recognise veterans as assets to our communities, enabling them to maximise their potential as civilians and making sure the right support is available to meet their needs. It assesses the barriers to and opportunities for providing support to each veteran, including improved collaboration between organisations and better co-ordination of services. Those are aims and aspirations on which I think that we can all agree.

The key thing now is how we take the strategy forward in Scotland. As many of the services accessed by veterans here are devolved, the Scottish Government is running its own consultation on the veterans strategy. We will consult key stakeholders and representative groups of veterans across the six themes of the strategy: community and relationships, which includes looking at social isolation and loneliness; employment, education and skills; finance and debt; health and wellbeing; making a home in civilian society; and veterans and the law. The consultation will run until February 2019, alongside the UK Government’s public consultation, which is open to all veterans, including those in Scotland.

In my relatively short time as minister for veterans, I have already learned that veterans and the organisations that represent them are not slow to let us know what they think. That is extremely valuable and I welcome it, particularly where the feedback is about making improvements. If we are to develop services for veterans, we need to know from those at the sharp end where our policies and processes, and those of our partners, are not translating into effective support where it is required.

We are at an advantage in Scotland in that we have our independent veterans commissioner, who has already examined in depth some of the themes covered by the strategy, consulting widely and recommending changes in relation to transition, health, housing and employability. That enables us to concentrate on a more focused consultation, canvassing the views of key stakeholders, large and small, across the public, private and third sectors and representative groups of veterans

I have already had the opportunity to meet many organisations that help to support our veterans and armed forces community, including Combat Stress, HorsebackUK, Scottish Veterans Residences, Venture Trust, the career transition partnership and Lothian Veterans Centre. All those visits have given me insights into how we could better shape our work in Government—I hope to expand on that point in my closing speech.

Among other things, those engagements also emphasised the vital role that families play in transitions and beyond, and that we must debunk the myth that the majority of our veterans are damaged. They are not—most are net contributors and assets to communities and employers.

It is important, however, to recognise that some veterans need help, and I do not shy away from that. As my colleague the Minister for Mental Health set out in our previous debate, veterans’ mental health remains a priority. The Daily Record newspaper has rightly featured the tragic cases of veterans who have taken their own lives, and it is vital that we better understand what is behind those tragedies. I will not repeat the Scottish Government actions that Ms Haughey explained previously, but I welcome the Ministry of Defence’s announcement of a study into the deaths of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is important that we learn as much as we can from those deaths, to help us consider what might be done. The Scottish Government is committed to assisting in that regard.

It is also important to recognise that the problems that veterans experience are not always directly triggered by their operational experience. Issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder can stem from non-combat experiences. That has been raised with me when I have talked to veterans.

As part of the consultation, I will undertake further engagements across all the themes of the strategy. For example, tomorrow I will visit HM Prison Glenochil to meet the governor, who is himself a veteran, and a group of veterans. I am working with veterans charities, large and small, to hear a wide range of views, and last week I wrote to all armed forces and veterans champions in Scotland, to encourage them to have their say.

This debate presents an opportunity for us to hear the views of members of the Scottish Parliament. I am grateful to Maurice Corry and Mike Rumbles, whom I have met, and I ask all members to encourage groups in their constituencies to feed in through the consultation process. We want to hear veterans’ voices.

The strategy builds on a significant body of positive work that is under way across Government and more widely to champion our armed forces community and ensure that veterans face no disadvantage when they access services and support. However, we can do better. I look forward to considering the views that are generated by the consultation and, of course, those of members.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the work undertaken by the partners across all four UK nations in developing the Veterans Strategy; recognises that the Scottish Government is now coordinating a consultation process to look at how the strategy will be taken forward in Scotland, which will include discussions with key stakeholders and veterans themselves to identify future priorities and areas for improvement; notes that this consultation will build on and complement the work of the Scottish Veterans Commissioner, and agrees that the Scottish Government should continue to work in partnership to ensure that veterans and their families in Scotland are recognised as assets to communities and receive the best possible access to support and opportunities.

15:46  

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

I declare an interest: I am a veteran.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. Given my past experience in the armed forces and my role in veterans affairs now, I could not be more supportive of the aim of securing a strong and clear veterans strategy.

The Scottish Conservatives will support the Scottish Government motion and the Labour and Liberal Democrat amendments, as well as the amendment in my name.

It is crucial that we have a strong sense of awareness of the veterans who are around us in our communities and workplaces. We must also be aware of the valuable skill set that veterans can bring. Their experience in the armed forces not just prepares them for military life but moulds them into capable, versatile and highly motivated individuals. As a Parliament and as a nation, we need to recognise that. If we adjust our mindsets and attune ourselves to how we can best help veterans together, that will help us to get this right.

The collaborative effort on the veterans strategy turns such awareness into a practical and active long-term plan, which I believe will harness support and agency for our veterans. That is why it is important to ensure that the armed forces units never lose sight of their veterans—or, wherever possible, their families.

Veterans in our country deserve every chance in society. Far from leaving them at a disadvantage, it is right to utilise the strength and skill that they can offer. The outgoing veterans commissioner, Eric Fraser, rightly said that it would be far more encouraging for veterans if we recognised the important contribution that they can make in their communities and to Scotland’s economy as a whole. We must move on from the perception that veterans, on their return, are somehow lesser or not as able, purely because of their experiences and the impact that operations or service overseas might have had on their lives.

I am greatly encouraged, as I am sure are our armed forces personnel, by the publication of “The Strategy for our Veterans”. I commend the efforts in the strategy accurately to identify themes and cross-cutting factors, which I hope will direct how our Governments and the three sectors can help our veterans to be active agents in our communities.

The charitable sector must be at the heart of delivery of the strategy in Scotland. Charitable groups are integral to the support of veterans. As I have highlighted in the Parliament, there are 320 armed forces charities in Scotland alone. They come alongside to offer training, counselling, therapy and life skills, among many other sorts of support. They can provide rehabilitation and respite services, as well as advocacy and careers support. The Lady Haig Poppy Factory and the Glasgow’s helping heroes partnership are just two examples of the help that is available.

Scotland’s treatment of its veterans has come a long way. For the most part, veterans’ needs are recognised and respected. However, more can always be done. There are still areas in which further support can and should be provided.

For example, the process of finding the right housing is a challenge for many veterans. They can face a lack of clear information, which can often lead to an understandable sense of frustration and fuel a feeling of social isolation. I believe that, once the strategy is implemented, it will give greater clarity on how veterans can secure accommodation. I hope that that problem can be solved by agencies working together and liaising with experts and veterans themselves.

The strategy aims to co-ordinate efforts for veterans’ provision. My colleagues and I believe that that will help to make support services more streamlined and efficient in practice. Surely that collaborative approach will be far better for the mental health and wellbeing of our veterans in the long term. Therefore, making a co-ordinated effort will be hugely beneficial.

We have seen the enormous benefits of what happens when groups collaborate to further progress and provide vital solutions. For example, NHS Lothian, Veterans Scotland and the local armed forces community will work in close partnership with the Lothian councils to offer support and advice services for service personnel in the Lothian region. That is a great encouragement to us all, including, I am sure, other members in the chamber. We have also seen that happen in the Argyll and Bute Council and Moray Council areas.

Ensuring strong and informed delivery of the strategy in Scotland can be done only by working closely with armed forces personnel and their families along with the organisations that support them. With the composition and needs of the veterans community constantly evolving, we need to ensure that the working out of the strategy reflects the on-going shift. By truly listening and finding the gaps in the support system, the Scottish Government can adequately re-evaluate what changes can be made. For veterans, that will make a return to civilian life easier.

The implementation of health and wellbeing services is of particular importance to me, and I welcome the inclusion of that as part of the strategy. Ensuring that those services are available to veterans who are in need will make their future brighter. It will open up possibilities for those individuals to contribute their skills and experiences in their local communities, and that will help to address loneliness and isolation, which are issues that armed forces personnel often have to deal with. We know that a vast range of organisations, including Combat Stress, Poppyscotland, Legion Scotland and the Defence Medical Welfare Service, already exists to help veterans tackle those demons. Signposting to those health and specialist services is especially important and can be done more efficiently with more prompt data gathering on the veteran community. Better understanding makes for better solutions and more entrenched support overall.

In January, a seminar for service families and veterans will be held at Glasgow Caledonian University. That demonstrates the role of academia and education in relation to veterans and their families.

To conclude, the UK Government and the devolved Governments have partnered to form the strategy, and it is vital that that collaboration goes the distance. I welcome the on-going consultation to put the strategy in place. With that, progress can truly be made for our veterans and their families.

I move amendment S5M-15016.2, to insert at end:

“, and recognises the value of co-operation, not only between the different governments of the UK, but also between different sectors and government portfolios.”

15:52  

Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Like Mr Corry, I declare an interest as an armed forces veteran.

We welcome the debate, the work that partners across all four UK nations have undertaken in developing the veterans strategy and the consultation that the minister has started with MSPs, stakeholders and veterans themselves. I look forward to feeding into that consultation.

We will support all the amendments and the Government motion. I hope that the whole Parliament will unite, as we are normally able to, in showing our support for the armed forces and veteran communities in Scotland.

As the minister and Mr Corry have already said, veterans are an asset to Scotland’s workplaces and communities. Therefore, we must ensure that we harness their potential and fully support them to transition smoothly into civilian life.

Although priority has been given to the healthcare of veterans, the recent Scottish veterans commissioner report makes it clear that we cannot become complacent about the quality of those services. Positive progress has been made in addressing veterans’ social and housing needs, but recent figures show that the position may be reversing, with an increase in homelessness in the veteran community. A more ambitious approach to supporting our veterans and ending homelessness is needed to ensure that that does not become a trend.

For a number of years, North Lanarkshire Council has given additional points to housing applications from members of the armed forces who are due to leave the service. I encourage other councils and housing associations to look at that model.

Mental health is a serious concern for the whole of society, but that should not mean that the needs of veterans are overlooked. In particular, the Scottish veterans commissioner has noted that funding for specialist mental and physical health services for veterans is disjointed and in some cases ad hoc. The need for specialist physical and mental health services is clear, especially given the range of physical injuries and mental health conditions that some veterans have. That is why we have included the issue for consideration in our amendment.

The most recent report from the SVC looked at whether Scotland is getting it right when it comes to the health and wellbeing of veterans in Scotland. The report concluded that, although the energy and ambition in establishing specialist health services for veterans in the past decade have been impressive, they have waned recently, and there is perhaps a need to rekindle awareness and concern for veterans’ healthcare. The report stated that the concept of priority treatment for veterans was no longer fit for purpose and the vision should instead be

“the principles of excellent, accessible and sustainable treatment and care for all veterans.”

The report also emphasised the need for specialist services to be available to the small group of veterans who have the most severe and enduring injuries, caused or exacerbated by military service. It called for assurances for that group that those services would be protected and that their medical and social care needs would be met now and in the long term. We echo that call and ask the Government to ensure that those services are sufficiently resourced and protected for current and future generations.

Although I think that it is right that we spend time discussing the needs of the veterans community, it is equally important that we talk about strengths, and I will finish as I started, on that point.

Veterans learn and develop a range of skills in the armed forces that people in civilian life just do not get the opportunity to learn. Those are skills and experiences that companies are, or should be, desperate for. I hope that the message goes out loud and clear from Parliament, from Government and as part of the new veterans strategy that businesses would be lucky to have access to those skills and veterans in their workplaces.

I move amendment S5M-15016.3, to insert at end

“; recognises the importance of specialist physical and mental health services to veterans with enduring injuries and conditions, and calls on the Scottish Government to protect and resource these services for current and future generations.”

15:57  

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

I am pleased to speak in today’s debate. A great many adults in Scotland have served in our armed forces. Although the majority of veterans go on to lead normal lives and make extremely productive contributions to civilian life, a number do not. I speak as a veteran myself, having served for 15 years in the Army. My first tour of duty was here, in Scotland, with the Scottish infantry division at Glencorse. I then undertook a tour of duty in Gibraltar, six years and three tours of duty in Germany with the British Army of the Rhine and two years’ service in Northern Ireland.

In a number of veterans debates, I have taken the opportunity to focus on the provision of veterans health and wellbeing services in my region of the north-east, particularly in the NHS Grampian area. I will take a different tack in today’s debate, because I have been struck by the minister’s willingness to discuss and address the issues that I have been raising for some time. I am very pleased indeed that the Scottish Government will support my amendment, which focuses on the need for equitable treatment of our veterans across Scotland. The Liberal Democrats will support the Government’s motion and all the amendments in the vote later.

People who have risked their lives for this country and have given years of service in the armed forces must be safe in the knowledge that they will return home to well-resourced health and wellbeing support services—for both mental and physical health—and that those services will be available to them regardless of which health board area they happen to live in. I am convinced that the minister is personally committed to seeing that the military covenant is more than just words and is manifestly operating throughout our public services.

In my experience, identifying veterans who present at their GP practice with mental and/or physical problems is a real issue. We should ensure that every health board has a service that is an effective first point of contact, with every veteran being referred to that point of contact by their GP or other health professionals.

I stress that any type of first point of contact for ex-service personnel is immensely helpful to the individual in need. My view is formed from my experience of engaging with veterans over the years. Although it was some time ago, in my last two years of army service I had a resettlement officer role—amongst others—so I am aware of the difficulties that are faced by ex-service personnel and those who are about to leave the service. The minister has a real role to play here. I hope that he will follow the matter up and report back, in a future debate, that every health board is, indeed, operating such an effective first-point-of-contact service that gives real meaning to the military covenant.

I know that time is short, Presiding Officer. I very much welcome the constructive efforts on behalf of veterans that Graeme Dey, as the responsible minister, is bringing to his role, and I expect that those efforts will produce positive results for our veterans, whatever part of Scotland they live in. I look forward to debating his success on these issues with him in the next debate.

I move amendment S5M-15016.1, to insert at end:

“, including a first point of contact for all veterans within all NHS board areas of Scotland.”

16:01  

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

I am delighted to speak in the debate. As members will know, members of the armed forces and the ex-service community account for almost 10 per cent of the population of Scotland, so it is vital that we take steps to address the issues that this portion of our population face. Veterans are an asset, but for far too long they have faced barriers that prevent them from making their full contribution to society.

I pose a wee question to the minister and ask him to respond in his summing up. I am aware that there will be a veterans question in the census, and I would be grateful if the minister could provide an update on that.

I welcome the launch of the strategy for our veterans, which is UK-wide, supported by the three Governments and delivered locally. The strategy is guided by three main principles. The first is:

“Veterans are first and foremost civilians and continue to be a benefit to wider society”.

The second is:

“Veterans are encouraged and enabled to maximise their potential as civilians”.

The third is:

“Veterans are able to access support that meets their needs when necessary, through public and voluntary sectors”.

By 2028, we need to ensure that every veteran feels even more valued, supported and empowered.

Individuals who leave the armed forces are undeniably a crucial asset to Scotland, as they bring many transferable skills to civilian employers. Therefore, Scotland should take steps to become the permanent settlement destination of choice for those who leave the armed forces. As a nation, we must also ensure that no member of the armed forces veterans community faces any disadvantage in trying to access services and support.

I acknowledge that the Scottish Government is the first Administration under devolution to have a veterans minister, which has proven to be an important position. The Scottish Government also made an excellent decision in appointing the first-ever Scottish veterans commissioner. The operationally independent nature of the veterans commissioner has made sure that the commissioner can effectively scrutinise policy and service delivery, and the commissioner has become a voice for veterans in Scotland.

In addition to the veterans minister and the Scottish veterans commissioner, continued funding for Veterans Scotland is essential as it seeks to develop its capacity and increase the level of support that it provides. Since the creation of the Scottish veterans fund, in 2008, over £1.3 million has been used to support projects across Scotland. The fund has been incredibly important in supporting projects that promote employment and skills development.

I will touch on the Scottish War Blinded charity and its excellent work. I chair the cross-party group on visual impairment, and, earlier this year, I was invited to the opening of the Jenny’s well care home in Paisley. It is run by the sister organisation, Royal Blind. During the summer, I went back for a tour of Jenny’s well and visited the Scottish War Blinded Hawkhead centre, which is next door. I was hugely impressed with both facilities and the charities’ desire to help even more people to get the assistance that they require.

As a result, I contacted Jim Boyland of the local Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Association and we met Richard Baker and Rebecca Barr to see how we can get more local armed forces veterans involved. That work is under way.

The Scottish War Blinded briefing for the debate was extremely helpful, and it highlighted the wide range of support that the organisation offers. To have an organisation with the expertise, the understanding and the finances to assist people is hugely important, and I know that it has been of great assistance to many people. The people to whom I spoke on that day in the summer could not have praised it more highly.

Working with others is key to making all of this happen, and I am convinced that, by 2028, armed forces veterans in Scotland will have improved outcomes compared with the situation that they faced in the past.

16:05  

Tom Mason (North East Scotland) (Con)

I support the motion and my colleague Maurice Corry’s amendment. We are fortunate to live in an open and free democracy where we are able to debate the ideas and principles that inform our decision making. Indeed, we have the luxury of agreeing to disagree on occasion. We should be in little doubt that we are able to do so because our democracy has been defended when it has been under threat.

Throughout the decades, generations of service personnel have answered the call and served their country with honour and distinction. Many return home with storied tales of their service; others, sadly, do not. It is with that sacrifice in mind that I pay tribute to all who have served, be that at home or abroad, by land, sea or air. They represent the very best in our nation. Therefore, we owe them not just an immeasurable debt of gratitude but whatever care and support they need on returning home.

On that note, I whole-heartedly welcome the new report “The strategy for our veterans”, which was published last month. I particularly praise the tone and the way in which all parties involved have handled the issue. As members have noted, the strategy identifies the six key themes that should be at the forefront of our consideration when dealing with veterans’ issues. Each of those themes is worthy of our attention. When a lower percentage of veterans are in work compared with the rest of the population, we need to talk about employment. When almost a third have only one close friend or no close friends, we need to talk about integration into communities. When 27 per cent admit to having suicidal thoughts, we need to talk about physical and mental health.

I will specifically mention one theme that I did not include in that list: the need to ensure that our veterans have a place to live that suits their needs. To my mind, that should be not a key theme but a bare minimum, and we should be doing much better on that issue. I do not seek to suggest that it is a seasonal issue. Nevertheless, as we approach the winter period, the problem of homelessness becomes even more acute, which is something on which we should reflect. Importantly, the strategy identifies new cross-cutting factors that we can use to improve outcomes across these metrics.

I particularly want to mention the vital steps that are being taken to improve the collection and analysis of data on the needs of veterans, which will give us a greater base to inform decision making.

As the report notes:

“The UK population value Veterans”.

I believe that the veteran community recognises that. With a strategy that will see us through the next decade, we must keep working at it in order to make the improvements in service delivery that our veterans richly deserve.

I believe that a combined approach between Governments, portfolios and sectors is the right way to go, which is ably demonstrated by the co-operative work that went into the report.

The armed forces covenant and all the work that it commits us to is a profoundly good thing. It should focus our minds on the scale of the task ahead, and I am sure that it will. We do a good job of taking care of our veterans, but we can always do better, so let us work together to do just that.

16:09  

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I was pleased in this session of Parliament to respond positively to an invitation to become a member of the Highland Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, which means that I have that limited connection with many former servicemen.

Of course, for most servicemen, the transition to civilian life from active duty largely goes without event. My best man served for several decades in the Army.

In 1991, I happened to be on a flight from Sydney to Auckland and found myself sitting beside Les Munro, who was one of the dambuster pilots and who had clearly prospered in civilian life. My great-great-grandfather Andrew Barlow, who served with the corps of royal artillery drivers between 1813 and 1818—although he does not appear to have been at Waterloo—seems to have come out of it okay. My great-great-great-grandfather David Berry, who was in the Royal Navy from 1780 to 1782, similarly seems to have prospered.

I presume that, like many of our servicemen today, those men found wonderful, welcoming families and communities that they could draw on for support as they returned to civilian life. Not all are so fortunate. Indeed, even during the walk from Waverley station to Parliament, which I do six times a week, I pass some less fortunate ex-servicemen. There is one, in particular, whom I regularly have a chat with. He is doing well, but he is sitting on the pavement with a little bowl in front of him, and when I have change he gets my change. It is little enough, but it is something that I would wish to do. Judging by the conversations that I have had with him, he has been failed by the system, and I am uncertain what would help him.

He is perhaps the exception. As far as I am aware, he is not suffering from PTSD. That is, at least, an identifiable condition, and we can support those who suffer from it. People with the condition often experience frustration and aggression and are subject to bouts of violence, which leads to difficulties in employment, relationships and so on. Mental health support is often one of the most important things required by the minority of ex-service personnel who have that kind of issue.

The support that is available across Scotland is variable. Mike Rumbles’s reference in his amendment to the need to ensure that there is access to the right kind of services is proper and timely.

We have a lot going on in Scotland to be proud of—we have 50-plus veterans organisations. The last time we debated the subject, there was a little debate about the number and Maurice Corry suggested that it was rather higher than 50. I am sure that he is correct. We all know about Poppyscotland—we have just been wearing poppies on our lapels. It is a great tribute to Poppyscotland that, 100 years after the poppy became a symbol of remembrance, we continue to use it to this day.

Everywhere we go, there are memorials to those who have lost their lives. In the old Calton cemetery, there is the memorial to the Scots who lost their lives in the American civil war; there is the Boer war memorial on North Bridge; and in every town, village and hamlet there are memorials to those who fell in the two great wars of the 20th century. In West Lothian, I am aware of a memorial to the Korean war. However, we now have a duty towards those who live on and need our continuing support. I am sure that we will all wish to give it.

16:13  

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

As deputy convener of the cross-party group on the armed forces and veterans community, I am delighted that we have the opportunity today to have a debate—albeit that it is a short one—on the strategy for our veterans. It is a strategy that, as we know, was endorsed by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments just last month. It has, at its heart, recognition that service personnel and their families should not be disadvantaged by the very fact of their service, and that, where it is needed, special provision must be made to help those who have sacrificed most—those who have unfortunately been injured or bereaved.

I look forward to the Scottish Government working with key partners and, most important, with veterans themselves, because it is important that we learn from lived experience. That will progress consultation on implementation of the strategy in Scotland. As we have heard, the strategy touches on a host of devolved areas—housing, health, education, skills and employability, to name but a few.

I am very pleased that the strategy will build on the valuable work of the first veterans commissioner, Eric Fraser, and his successor, Charlie Wallace. They have already published a number of reports about the experience of veterans in Scotland, and have made a number of recommendations that I commend to the minister. I hope that he will look at them with a view to implementing them.

In the short time that I have available, I will focus on Labour’s amendment, which refers to

“specialist physical and mental health services”.

The Scottish Veterans Commissioner rightly noted that although priority has been given to healthcare for veterans, it is clear that we must not be complacent about the quality of services and the need to keep them under constant review.

I know that politicians like to talk about the postcode lottery that exists among health boards, but I have to say that there are also inconsistencies within heath boards. We can and should do much better. I think that everybody would agree that it is right that the people who have sacrificed most for their country deserve the best possible services and care. There are challenges in respect of our mental health services, including long waiting times, pressure on staffing and lack of sustainability. The challenges affect everyone—not just veterans. However, there is undoubtedly a requirement for specialist services, as my colleagues have said, for people who have severe and enduring problems as a result of their military service. Those services need to be developed and sustained, and they need to be provided not just in healthcare, but in social care.

I welcome the Government’s mental health action plan, which mentions veterans. I know that veterans experience challenging mental health problems as a result of their service. Some in my constituency have suffered, and continue to suffer, from PTSD, and I know that more could be done locally to support them. The Scottish Veterans Commissioner asked for a specific plan to tackle mental ill health among veterans. I ask the minister to consider that and to consider how we might remove barriers to accessing mental health services for veterans, how we deal with the persistent problem of the postcode lottery in services and how, in particular, we protect specialist PTSD services. I think that we would all acknowledge that funding for specialist mental health services is patchy, short term and insecure. I hope that the minister has had a conversation with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, and that he will address that issue in the budget next week.

Finally, members are right to acknowledge that veterans are an asset to their workplaces and their communities. I know from the veterans in Dumbarton, the Vale of Leven and Helensburgh what a fantastic contribution they make to our area. I thank them and all veterans for their service to our country. It is incumbent on us to repay that service by ensuring that their transition to civilian life is smooth and seamless.

16:17  

Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I am pleased to speak in the debate, not least in order to welcome the work that has been undertaken by partners across all four nations to develop a veterans strategy. I hope that it is ambitious, all-encompassing and does not end up reflecting the lowest common denominator, because our veterans deserve the best.

Clearly, the Ministry of Defence has a pivotal role as the employer. Although most service personnel leave the armed forces and go on to lead fulfilling and healthy lives in civilian society, some, from day 1, do not. For some personnel, aspects of their service will come back later on to affect them physically, mentally or both. I commend all the businesses and organisations that use ex-service personnel as one of their main sources of recruitment. In the north-east, the oil and gas sector has employed a great many of them, and to good effect. I thank BT for its briefing on the work that it does with veterans.

Due the nature of their work and living situations, there exists among ex-service personnel a camaraderie that does not exist among other cohorts of workers, which is why organisations such as the Royal British Legion Scotland are so important. Ex-service personnel and their families must be made aware that a wide variety of services are available to them; I wish to focus on that point.

First, veterans are able to access all the services that are available to other members of our communities, but many of our veterans services recognise the specialist requirements of our veterans and their families. In Aberdeen, and in my constituency, we are fortunate to have the Gordon Highlanders museum, which recently hosted the first session by Action on Hearing Loss, to facilitate veterans having their hearing and hearing aids checked to ensure that they are making the best use possible of the devices. The session was very successful and quite emotional for those of us who were there, because two veterans in their late 80s met for the first time since they had left school in Turriff many decades previously. I thank Richard Baker for his briefing on behalf of Scottish War Blinded about its work across Scotland, which was highlighted by Stuart McMillan.

I had heard about veterans breakfasts in other parts of Scotland, so I was pleased to attend the first veterans breakfast at the British Legion club in Stonehaven on Saturday 17 November. I thank Brenda Cowe and her team for organising the breakfast for veterans who live in and around Stonehaven. In fact, they came from quite a wide area. In conversation, I was struck by the fact that veterans and their families are not aware of the services that are available for them, which is why I was delighted recently to meet with Robert Reid of Defence Medical Welfare Service, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. In Scotland, it works closely with the health boards in Grampian, Fife and Lanarkshire. Next Wednesday in Parliament members will have a chance to learn more about its work; I hope that members will come—especially those who are based in the health board areas that I have mentioned.

I commend the recent work of the The Press and Journal in highlighting the range of organisations that are available to veterans in the north-east. If I have one plea to make to the minister, it is that there be one place that veterans and their families know about to learn where to access all the services that are available to them.

16:21  

Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Today’s debate is a welcome opportunity to discuss some of the positive work across the United Kingdom to support and expand opportunities for veterans.

There have been positive speeches from around the chamber. I join members who have emphasised the importance of the new strategy. We owe to our veterans a responsibility to ensure that the duties that they have undertaken as part of their service are not ignored. Policy on veterans has consistently had, at its heart, a straightforward principle: to ensure that our ex-service personnel are not disadvantaged by having served. We are not advocating more favourable or preferential treatment; we want simply that they are able to overcome the barriers that veterans can face when they re-enter civilian life.

Since the armed forces covenant was enshrined in law in 2011, there has been a notable increase in the focus on such efforts across the country. I emphasise that, because a great deal of that work is undertaken locally, in partnership with local authorities, the third sector and community organisations. The UK strategy, for example, recognises that a number of the charities that support veterans are innovative. They exist in the sphere for good reason, and small and dynamic organisations can be more responsive to particular needs. We should also recognise the long experience and efforts of Poppyscotland, the Royal British Legion and others.

A number of members have centred their remarks on particular subjects: I will mention employment. On Saturday, during a street surgery in Moray, I met a relatively young veteran who has a disability. He spoke of a problem that faces many people with disabilities who are looking to enter the workplace. He wants people to see his abilities—the experience, the drive and the commitment to work that he had demonstrated through his service. Instead, too often, potential employers cannot see beyond the stick that he now uses.

Of course, many younger veterans leave the armed forces still relatively early in their career development. They move on from service with a range of valuable transferable skills, but some have trouble adjusting to civilian employment. Many have faced well-documented hurdles, even to first finding a job and bringing out and acknowledging the skills that they have built up. Employment, education and skills is one of the six focus areas of the strategy, and will build on work that has been done previously. In 2016’s “Renewing Our Commitments” paper, the Scottish Government mentioned employability schemes that are targeted at service leavers: work with community jobs Scotland, access to the employability fund and the employer recruitment incentive. It would be useful if the minister could update us on how successful those programmes have been and on uptake among veterans.

Employment and skills are at the centre of supporting ex-service families to find stability and to thrive, but one area that has been given insufficient attention is the impact on servicemen’s and servicewomen’s family members. Many spouses of service personnel have had breaks in their careers or had their employment options narrowed by the support that they have given to their loved ones. A few small schemes are in operation, but they have received little strategic attention from the Government.

There have also been a few small positives over recent years. I was pleased that, earlier this year, Skills Development Scotland created a dedicated online presence for veterans, which serves personnel and families as part of the my world of work programme. As my colleague Maurice Corry mentioned, SDS and the MOD’s careers transition partnership is undertaking a pilot in parts of my region—in Moray and the Highlands—to make early career advice available to people who are in transition from the armed forces.

The strategy gives us a basis to drive forward real change in the next 10 years. A solid first step towards that goal will be to recognise success and ensure that resources are available to upscale projects and initiatives that work well.

The ideals unite the political parties and the Governments of the UK, and the collaboration that we have seen up to this point will continue to be invaluable in the future. Veterans have an incredible amount to offer our society. Through harnessing that potential we not only maintain our covenant with the armed forces, but continue to benefit from veterans’ knowledge and experience as they enter civilian life.

16:26  

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

It is an honour and privilege to speak in today’s debate. Veterans are true heroes who often receive less support than they deserve.

We all understand the importance of veterans to our society, but it cannot be overstated. Perhaps no other choice is as difficult or noble as that of giving up the comfort of home, leaving loved ones and family behind and putting one’s life at risk for one’s country. We owe an unpayable debt to all veterans.

This year marked the centenary of the end of world war one. With that came the persistent reminder that without the sacrifice of so many of Scotland and the UK’s people, the world that we are living in today might look scarily different.

We all have connections to veterans. My grandfather was in a Highland regiment and fought in the great war. Even now, I remember hearing as a child the stories from the war that he told me. He passed on to me the 12 volumes of “The Great War”, published by the Amalgamated Press, which I will treasure always. In addition, my father was an engineer artificer for the Royal Air Force in world war two and he would always talk to me about the various planes that he worked on.

Colleagues, my point is not to state that my family was affected by war, but to say that every family has been affected by war. Every family can trace a relative who joined the Army, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy or another armed service. We all know the effects that the sacrifice of leaving a family behind has on many veterans, but perhaps we never imagined that the sacrifice would continue when they returned home. We have repaid the commendable act of fighting for one’s country with a cold welcome home that emphasises a host of difficulties that revolve around inaccessible housing, limited employment options, and sometimes sub-par health and social care.

Veterans continue to be an underappreciated group in our society, who are often in need of serious social, mental and physical help. Sometimes, our services are not robust enough and veterans fall through the cracks. To me, that is simply inexcusable.

When I was a councillor, I encouraged my council to take note of the time that service personnel had spent in the armed forces. That time would count as time served on the council housing waiting list. Therefore, service personnel would automatically be rehoused if they had previously lived in the local authority. As other members have stated, that approach has been replaced by a points system. I hope that the points system works as the previous system did for years. I encourage all councils to introduce that policy. If people have gone and fought for their country, we should at least ensure that they have a place to live when they return, and that the house that they live in is suitable for their needs.

The strategy for our veterans gives us a chance within the UK to provide care that would become world renowned. Our goals are lofty, but they are reachable. The progress of the strategy will be monitored to make sure that we are making good on our promises. If we can successfully reach each objective, veterans’ lives will be significantly improved and, as a nation, we can in a small way express our gratitude to those who have done more for us than we have ever done for them.

I pay tribute to the projects that are being undertaken by Age Scotland. I suggest that the Scottish Government consider ways to support the many charities that are able to reach out and assist veterans.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the closing speeches. I call Mike Rumbles to speak for four minutes.

16:30  

Mike Rumbles

I do not want to take up too much time. I am impressed by the contributions from across the chamber. Every member has spoken with the feeling that everything is not quite right in the way that we treat our veterans at the moment and that we can do better.

I am looking forward to Graeme Dey’s summing up; as the Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans, he has a task ahead of him, because not everything in the garden is rosy. Everyone in the Parliament is well intentioned and wants to see the best future results for our veterans, so I will put a bit of pressure on the minister. I would love him to come to our next veterans debate and address the points that members have raised, so that we can see how we have progressed those points.

From the Liberal Democrats’ point of view, we have had a positive debate today. It has been the best veterans debate that I have been involved in, because everybody has focused on the right outcome.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That was quick. That caught me unexpectedly, Mr Rumbles. I call Alex Rowley. Mr Rowley, I can allow you a little extra time, if you wish.

16:31  

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

In closing for Labour, I again offer support for the debate, and I welcome the backing that has been shown across the chamber for veterans in Scotland.

With regard to the veterans strategy, I am pleased to see that there is, as Mark Griffin said, collaborative working across the UK to develop and endorse a much-needed and vital strategy. At the same time, as Graeme Dey outlined, there is scope to tailor services across the nations. Therefore, it is right that the Parliament looks at what those services should be.

When we last discussed veterans’ issues in the Parliament, I highlighted that, although we welcome the on-going progress that is being made on support for former armed forces personnel, there are still gaps in support, particularly for veterans who have been involved in recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Jackie Baillie has outlined some of those gaps in mental health and welfare support. I reiterate those points and I hope that, today, we are able to consider the key issues around welfare and mental health as the Government undertakes its consultation on how to take forward the veterans strategy in Scotland.

I heard what Graeme Dey said about the majority of veterans making a positive contribution to society—a point that was also made by Maurice Corry and Jackie Baillie. However, the tragic truth is that the number of referrals of former armed forces personnel for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions has gone up by 143 per cent over the past 10 years. One of the key aims of the veterans strategy is enhanced collection, use and analysis of data across the public, private and charitable sectors to build an evidence base that will effectively identify and address the needs of veterans.

I wrote to the veterans minister on that issue and the issue of veteran suicide to highlight that the number of veterans who are committing suicide is increasing although a lot of that data is not being collected. It is important that there is a commitment to collecting that data, which is needed to allow for a better understanding of what is going on as well as to provide a vital resource to prevent further tragedies. I urge that any decisions on taking the veterans strategy forward in Scotland consider the problem of veterans’ mental welfare and the support that is offered to veterans.

In implementing the strategy, it should be obvious that veterans and their families should be given the required support as and when it is needed. As Stuart McMillan said, we all have a duty to those who have served in our armed forces. That is particularly true of those who have served in recent conflicts and are in need of our support now. I hope that members across the chamber agree.

The importance of specialist physical and mental health services for veterans with enduring injuries and conditions cannot to be overstated. We need to protect and resource those services for current and future generations.

Richard Lyle and other members have highlighted the importance of housing services. Again, we should ensure that veterans who have served their country and their families are able to get a roof over their head.

Without properly funded services, warm words and strategies are meaningless. When it comes to something as important as the welfare of our veterans in their time of need, I hope that we can all agree that we need real commitment in the form of properly funded services.

16:36  

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Like Mark Griffin, Maurice Corry and Mike Rumbles, I was a soldier. I served the country for 12 years. I am a veteran of a regiment in which my son now serves and I have a vested interest in the issue, because he has served overseas, in Afghanistan.

I think that we can all agree that there is a lot to recommend in the strategy that has been laid out for our veterans. The vision that has been set out by the UK Government and all three devolved Governments shows that we are getting the best by working together in the best interests of all veterans.

I particularly welcome the UK Government’s commitment to consider strengthening the pastoral and legal support that is available to veterans who are affected by legacy investigations. I do not propose to dwell too much on the issue, but the matter is close to my heart and I bring it to the chamber every time I speak about veterans. It is a small step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. I ask the Scottish Government to consider doing more in relation to legacy investigations. I know that, technically, that is not the responsibility of a devolved Administration—its responsibilities are in health and housing; however, the Scottish Government is often prepared to speak out on matters that it considers important. When it comes to protecting our veterans from legacy investigations relating to operation banner tours of Northern Ireland, this Government could say more and encourage the UK Government to protect those veterans in the same way that previous Governments protected those who were involved in the actions that they undertook in some other cause.

I do not believe that we want to see hounded veterans who have had to make split-second decisions based on whether they remove a potential threat or, by not doing so, perhaps sacrifice their and their colleagues’ lives. They must be protected from one-sided prosecutions once and for all, and I urge the Scottish Government to raise the matter with the UK Government.

Mike Rumbles

Will the member clarify that he is not pleading for special treatment? I think that he is saying that we should treat everyone on both sides of that conflict in the same way. Those conflicts are in the past; perhaps we should all move on.

Edward Mountain

I am, indeed, saying that. I have used the example before of a colleague in my regiment who is now being persecuted for something that happened in the 1970s, although the person who was involved in the bombing of my regiment in 1982 has been given a clear pass and is allowed to travel across this country without fear of prosecution.

I will leave the legacy investigation issue there and pick up some of the particularly important points in the debate.

I am delighted that the census will ask whether a person is a veteran.

I was also glad to hear that the minister views veterans as assets to Scotland, to the communities that they live in and to everyone they know.

We often underestimate the importance of families. I do not want to put words in the minister’s mouth, but I was pleased to hear him refer to families holding the fort, which is a true definition of what families do when they have to stay at home while family members are serving overseas, probably in difficult positions. Families give soldiers and other servicemen the confidence that they will return home to a static place that has not changed, which gives them stability after they have faced difficult times.

Maurice Corry stressed the importance of the valuable skills that veterans bring. Not only do they learn skills such as how to drive a lorry, but they have leadership skills and the ability to respond under pressure. As he said, veterans make a valuable contribution.

Maurice Corry referred to the importance of the charitable sector, which we should never underestimate. Many regiments have their own charitable organisations, which can be fleet of foot in responding to situations—they are not restricted by Government guidelines or to helping only servicemen, so they can help servicemen’s children, too. My old regimental association has helped soldiers’ families and has helped their children to get through university and other education. We should encourage such bodies to continue to do that.

I liked Mark Griffin’s comments about supporting veterans by harnessing their skills. Mike Rumbles said clearly that, after the help that soldiers gave us during their service, it is up to everyone to respond to their call for help when that is required.

Stuart McMillan talked about removing barriers for veterans, which is important. I agree that we should encourage soldiers and other service personnel to live here when they step down.

Tom Mason spoke eloquently about how servicemen who answered our call to defend the country have every right to expect their country to answer their call when they ask for help.

Stewart Stevenson made an important point about sweeping up individuals and helping them. Small acts of kindness by people on the street can give servicemen the feeling that they are wanted and cared for.

Jackie Baillie spoke eloquently about service issues, as she always does. She stressed that families are vital to supporting servicemen and women, which is entirely true. As she said, we need to prevent inconsistencies between health boards.

Maureen Watt spoke about the importance of helping former service personnel, as did Jamie Halcro Johnston, and about the importance of small organisations.

I do not always agree with everything that Richard Lyle says, but he spoke eloquently about the fact that all families know somebody who has served their country, so everyone owes a debt.

I reiterate my plea to the Scottish Government and the veterans commissioner to explore what actions can be taken to support veterans who are affected by legacy investigations. However, I am delighted by the consensus across the chamber on the need to help and respect veterans, who helped us when they served.

16:43  

Graeme Dey

I warmly thank colleagues from across the chamber for their contributions. The debate has been relatively brief, but it has very much re-emphasised the cross-party nature of the Parliament’s commitment to do the best by our veterans and the wider armed forces community.

I will pick up on aspects of the contributions that we heard. I will start with Mike Rumbles and may give a nod to Jackie Baillie.

During the debate in September, the Minister for Mental Health and I made it clear that the Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that all serving armed forces personnel and veterans who live in Scotland can access the best possible care and support, including safe and effective healthcare that meets their needs. I reiterate that today.

Veterans already have a first point of contact in the form of veterans champions, who are in place in every health board. We are working to strengthen the network of champions and use it better.

We have also shared information with health boards to ensure that all NHS staff are aware of veterans’ health rights, and we continue to work with health boards, champions and stakeholders to raise awareness and to address any barriers. However, I say to Mike Rumbles and to any other members who have specific evidence or examples of cases anywhere—not just in NHS Grampian—of veterans encountering difficulty in accessing support services, they should let us know. While responsibility for delivery may lie with individual boards or health and social care partnerships, as we set out in the “Renewing our Commitments” document that was published in 2016, we expect that there should be no disadvantages when it comes to accessing services.

I turn to other members’ contributions. Maurice Corry rightly noted the role of the charitable sector in delivering the aims of the strategy. I agree with him about the need for effective co-ordination and collaboration around the delivery of services.

I offer Mark Griffin a couple of assurances around the asks that he had. On housing and homelessness, my colleague Kevin Stewart, who has oversight of such matters, is very much aware of the veterans element to them. On access to health services and the commissioner’s report to which Mr Griffin referred, I can advise him that, as recently as this morning, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport sent me an update on our response to that report and on the progress that is being made. Of course, that reflects the fact that the Scottish Government accepted all the report’s recommendations. I will be happy to write to Mark Griffin further on that.

Stuart McMillan asked for information on the census question. The final decision on the inclusion of such a question will lie with the Parliament, of course, but the Scottish Government’s intention is to lay a draft order in late 2019. Judging by the tone and nature of this debate, I do not think that we will struggle for support when that happens.

A number of members, including Jackie Baillie and Alex Rowley, raised the issue of mental health. I say to members that that is an absolute priority for the Scottish Government. A record amount of funding has been put in place for veterans to be captured in the implementation of the mental health and suicide prevention strategies. However, beyond that, we have listened to the Scottish veterans commissioner’s asks for a veterans’ health network and for the production of a mental health action plan from that, both of which are very much on our agenda.

I turn briefly to Edward Mountain’s central point. I very much recognise the passion that he has for the subject, and I understand the background to that. Of course, his point concerns a reserved matter, as Mr Mountain knows. However, I will be happy to pass on to my UK Government colleagues his views on that issue, which were echoed by those of Mike Rumbles.

The past five months have been a steep learning curve for me, as the new Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans. In October, I set out our achievements to date and our priorities for the year ahead. However, I have also been engaging with organisations and groups of veterans, and have been listening intently while doing so. I offer some observations on areas in which I feel that there is clear room for improvement and in which we have the opportunity, as part of the strategy, both to look across Governments and, with my ministerial colleagues in the Scottish Government, to consider matters further.

The first such area is transition. I focus on that not in order to have a dig at the MOD in any way. Indeed, I noted that, in the recent Commons debate on the strategy, Tobias Ellwood, the UK Government’s Minister for Defence People and Veterans, himself acknowledged that more could be done in that area. I turn to it because there is a recurring theme among many transitioning service personnel to whom I have spoken. Done well, the transition process really can prepare service people for civilian life. However, I have had very mixed feedback about that process, and it is right that we prioritise doing what we can in Scotland to make it work as effectively as possible. I am committed to working with the Ministry of Defence to progress that, and I commend the work that has already taken place—for example, through the veterans employability strategic group, chaired by Mark Bibbey—to make sure that no one falls through the gaps as far as jobs are concerned. However, I accept that more needs to be done, and I undertake to write to Jamie Halcro Johnston on the points that he raised.

Of course, transition is about more than simply finding a job. Let us remember the importance of the wider family in all this, to which Edward Mountain referred. It is not just the serving sailor, soldier or airman who faces a massive change in their life; it is also their spouse or partner and their children. If nothing else, the past five months have really brought home to me the importance of the family unit.

We will have to work across Governments to look at how families are supported. Many former service personnel and families who settle in Scotland were not based here when they left the services. This year, we published “Welcome to Scotland: A guide for Service personnel and their families moving to Scotland” to set out the support that is available to military families who move here, and we are working to ensure that it filters down to those who need it, because there is more that we can do in that regard. I am pleased that the veterans commissioner is looking across a broader remit to consider the wider armed forces community.

Access to employment is another of the key issues for spouses and families. Recently, I was delighted to meet senior members of the navy to explore options for supporting the many spouses who will settle around Faslane as the number of personnel grows in the coming years. I also met Women’s Enterprise Scotland, which ran a successful course at Glencorse barracks to help spouses to set up their own businesses. Shortly, I will visit the spousal employment hub that has been set up in Leuchars to learn more about the challenges and successes in that area. Wives, spouses, partners and families face their own issues and need a range of different support. That was brought home to me recently when I met the War Widows Association to learn about the specific issues that its members face.

All of us here have some degree of understanding that, although most former service personnel transition successfully and are an asset to communities, in some cases adjusting to civilian life can be difficult—

Maurice Corry

I discussed with the minister the issue of expanding the science parks in four areas of Scotland. Has he made any progress on that? Progress in that area would tie in nicely with recruitment opportunities for forces veterans and spouses.

Graeme Dey

As Mr Corry might acknowledge, it was only a few days ago that we discussed the issue, so the answer is that I have not yet made progress on it.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

You are terribly slow. [Laughter.]

Graeme Dey

I was making the point that the transition process can be very hard for the family, and it can be doubly hard if the sailor, soldier or airman has been left with physical or mental scars from their service. It strikes me that, although we have services available for physical rehab and to assist individuals who are suffering from PTSD, I think that we can do better in recognising the strain that is placed on and carried by families. The launch of the strategy for our veterans and the current consultation process give us a chance to think about such issues.

I want to pick up on Mike Rumbles’s brief summarisation of the debate. He was right to note the quality and nature of what we have heard this afternoon, and he was right to challenge me. However, at the risk of sounding as though I am passing the buck, I point out that it is not just what I, as the veterans minister, do that matters. I reassure the chamber that the challenge that Mike Rumbles and other members have set us has been taken up not only by me, but by ministerial colleagues in the areas of health, housing, social isolation and employability, among others.

The strategy aims to ensure that, by 2028, every veteran feels even more valued, supported and empowered. Directed by our consultation in Scotland, and with the continued constructive collaboration that enabled us to achieve joint ownership of the strategy’s objectives, I, along with the ministerial colleagues I referred to, will do all that I can to ensure that we achieve those outcomes long before then.