Jack today told the House of Commons that the UK's veterans deserve "greater recognition" for their "incredible sacrifices" during a debate on Armed Forces Day. Jack's whole speech can be found below:
I am delighted to follow my neighbour, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, and to speak in this debate. My constituency is the proud home of a significant Army reserve centre on Anchor Road in Longton, which I have been pleased to visit on a couple of occasions. The city of Stoke-on-Trent has a proud history of recruitment and sacrifice across the British armed forces, as our local war memorials bear witness.
I have been a proud supporter of the Royal British Legion poppy appeal, having helped it with collections in my constituency, both out and about at British Legion stalls, and by hosting a collection tin and sales of poppies in my constituency office. The remembrance parades that I have attended in previous years in Fenton and Longton have always been very well attended. In fact, the number of people from the community who attend them is increasing each year. That is a moving reminder of how much our present-day liberties rest on the sacrifices of those who came before us.
This year’s Armed Forces Day will once again be marked at Queen’s Park in Longton. The event is being organised by the North Staffordshire armed forces and veterans celebration committee, the Queen’s Park Partnership, and Stoke-on-Trent City Council. I want to take this opportunity to thank them all, and the volunteers, without whom the event would not be possible. I especially thank the serving officers and veterans who will be taking part. There will be armed forces displays and vehicles, stalls and entertainment, and a parade for members of the forces, veterans associations, cadets and schools. As in every year, thousands of attendees are expected, and they will all, of course, be very welcome.
Queen’s Park was opened in 1888, and was laid out under the instructions of the then mayor of Longton, John Aynsley—a member of the great Aynsley ceramics dynasty—on land that was donated by the Duke of Sutherland. I mention that because it illustrates the way in which Queen’s Park is integral to Longton’s history, civic obligation, generosity, and community spirit. It is eminently suited to hosting the Armed Forces Day celebration for our city and for all those in our community who have selflessly given service in the past, and to paying tribute to those who continue to serve in our armed forces today.
We are one nation, and the Armed Forces Day celebration is for people of all ages and all backgrounds. Places such as Queen’s Park underline the fact that it is about bringing us all together, grounding us in our local communities with the common thread of our national armed services. It is, of course, a cross-party, or non-party political, occasion when we can all happily come together in thanks for what our forces do to keep us all safe.
I pay tribute to David Cameron’s role in the establishment of the armed forces covenant as a statement of the moral obligation that exists for us all, as a nation, as a Government and as a legislature, to the armed forces and the communities from which they hail and to which they return. Support for people leaving the armed forces must reflect the obligation that we owe to those who serve our country. I fully support the efforts to help service leavers into employment, not least the expansion of the career transition partnership to all members of the armed forces who have completed basic training. Lord Ashcroft’s work in that regard, ensuring that the transition for today’s service leavers back to civilian life is smoother and supported, is to be praised—as, of course, is his extensive support for veterans charities and memorials.
Towards the end of last year, in November, I was pleased to host an event with Landau, a charitable organisation that has a base in Newstead in my constituency and is dedicated to helping people who face barriers to employment. It has been doing excellent work to support veterans living locally, who often experience many barriers and challenges when readjusting to civilian life. The event, which we organised with local employers and which included partners from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Royal British Legion, focused on ensuring that more local employers signed up to be disability-confident and seek to help more veterans into employment.
The Minister mentioned how small the badges were that people wear to support our veterans. I think that, in the past, we have not always done quite enough to support our veterans. Last year, when I was part of a delegation to the United States to visit Congress, I was amazed to see, outside the office of nearly member of Congress, posters and flags dedicated to supporting veterans and those who had unfortunately fallen in war. I think that we need to do more in this country to support our veterans.
I am conscious that there are many calls for us to go further in taking time as a country to reflect on and celebrate the role of our armed forces, giving greater recognition to the incredible sacrifices that have been made for us all. Those calls, like the calls for us to increase funding for our armed forces in the forthcoming spending review, need careful and open-minded attention. My constituent Gloria Buckle, to whom I have spoken about that on a number of occasions, is one of the strong voices advocating an annual bank holiday dedicated to our veterans. I was pleased to hear that the early May bank holiday in 2020 is to be moved from Monday 4 May to Friday 8 May to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. That will enable people to pay full tribute to those who served. I hope that in future years that will become a more permanent feature, and that one of our existing bank holidays could be renamed Veterans Day to thank our veterans for all that they have done, and serving forces continue to do, for this country.
Our armed forces, perhaps more than any other institution under Her Majesty, unite our kingdom. As a country, we owe it to our service personnel and veterans to celebrate their work and dedication, and to remember their sacrifices. After all, we are free to enjoy a day such as this only because of their continuing vigilance in keeping us safe and free all year round.