Robert's Weekly Swindon Advertiser Article - 2nd March 2016

This month marks twenty-five years since the end of the first Gulf War.  This was the first time that an armed conflict was documented daily if not hourly by TV coverage on channels such as CNN.  It was my first glimpse of real conflict as it was happening and, at least temporarily, there was very little in the way of censorship, which is why I think those first months in 1991 were so sobering and memorable.  The War was waged to liberate the independent sovereign state of Kuwait which had been occupied and annexed by the Saddam Hussein regime of Iraq.  The conflict was underpinned by resolution of the UN Security Council and our Armed Forces served with distinction as part of a wider, international force.

There have been a number of commemorative events over the last few days, such as a Service of Thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral and the unveiling of a War Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.  I know that this has meant a lot to many local residents who served in the Gulf War, some of whom have become good friends as a result of my long-standing interest in the physical and mental consequences of their service in the theatre of war.

Some of the issues that I discuss with residents include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] and what is known as ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ (GWS).  The Government has been working over the years to address some of the issues that have arisen as a result of the experiences of people who served in the Gulf.  Most notably, there has long been a debate about GWS, and whether or not it is a recognised condition. The good news for veterans, is that, as an umbrella term, the range of symptoms presented by many Gulf War veterans has been recognised.  I know that many veterans feel strongly that more progress needs to be made, and I will continue to ensure that their concerns are raised with fellow Ministers at the Ministry of Defence. 

More generally, some excellent work is being done to expand the provision for veterans with mental health issues.  Following the enshrinement in law of the Armed Forces Covenant by the coalition Government, veterans in England, Scotland and Wales are entitled to priority access to secondary healthcare for conditions suspected to be due to their service in the Armed Forces, subject to the clinical needs of others.

In the March 2015 Budget, the Chancellor announced that the Government would provide a further £8.4m over the next five years to expand mental health services for veterans in England. This follows investment of over £7m during the preceding five years. In addition, over £13m from bank fines has been awarded to support mental health programmes in the Armed Forces community.

I am immensely proud of the courage and dedication of our Armed Forces. For those who have been injured either physically or mentally, it is our duty to ensure that they continue to receive the very best possible care. The Ministry of Defence is determined to ensure that veterans who require help are provided with appropriate support including through the Veterans UK helpline; Veterans Welfare Service; and the Veterans and Reserves Mental Health Programme which provides mental health assessments for veterans with operational Service since 1982.

There has been much coverage already this week about the demolition of part of the ‘Jungle Camp’ in Calais. I have written about the migrant crisis and the situation in Calais in previous columns, but I think that I ought to set out where things stand at the moment. 

The Government supports the speedy processing of asylum claims made in Calais. For migrants, including children, to be dealt with in accordance with the agreed rules, however, they must first claim asylum in France. A joint contact group has been established, and our Immigration Minister holds regular discussions with French Interior Ministry colleagues, including visits to Calais and Dunkirk to examine the processes and the information made available to migrants.

Whilst the management of the camp, both in terms of humanitarian aspects and maintaining law and order, is the responsibility of the French Government, the UK has committed to providing £3.6 million per year for two years to help provide support and facilities elsewhere in France. This is so that migrants can be helped to enter the French asylum system without ending up in dreadful conditions at Calais.

The UK and French Governments are unified in their response to this situation, and both Governments recognise the importance of close partnership and collaboration to reach a long-term solution.  I will keep an eye on this issue as it develops.

As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch with my office if you have a local or national issue that you would like to raise with me. My team can also give you some information about when my next advice surgery will be. You can email me at robert.buckland.mp@parliament.uk, or call my constituency office on 01793 533393.