13 Jun 2010

Speecn on Veterans ( Criminal Justice System ) 22 April 2010

Angela Constance is to be commended for giving the Parliament the opportunity to debate an issue that has been overlooked for far too long. I do not have any direct experience of the negative side—of the criminal implications or of breakdown, which often face people who come from a veterans or services background—but I do have experience of the positive things that can be done to help people who have come through those circumstances.

Angela Constance referred to Erskine. I grew up in the grounds of what was then termed Erskine hospital. My father was a disabled ex-serviceman and obtained one of the cottages there. I lived in what I now realise was a wonderful environment. It was a close-knit community and a very supportive environment, where families flourished and were allowed to get on with their lives.

I saw some positive signs in Erskine hospital—it would now be regarded as a care home—concerning people whose family relationships had broken down. Sometimes people turned to taking a good drink, as it was described at the time—excessive alcohol consumption—and they ended up coming into Erskine hospital. They were supported and helped there.

I saw things that I did not understand as a child—the horrors that wars cause. My father spent nearly four years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. When I was younger, he frequently suffered from malaria, and he relived all the horrors that he had experienced, through nightmares. In those days, there was no talk of post-traumatic stress or psychological support for those who had been through horrendous situations. However, my father benefited from a loving and supportive family and a close-knit community.

In those days, we lived in a totally different world. Even those who were not fortunate enough to benefit from places such as Erskine generally lived in communities where the family was still strong and important, where the community was close and tight knit, and where people looked after their own. Unfortunately, that is often no longer the case. We lived at a time when, although drink might have been a problem, drugs were not, unlike today. Unfortunately, too many young ex-service personnel now succumb to problems with drugs.

I saw the nightmare and stresses that war can cause, and I began to realise the implications for those who try to get on with their lives with no support. As other members have said, we are duty bound to consider our debt and our responsibility to those who have put so much on the line for us.

The key to all this is not to deal with veterans when they get to prison; the key is early intervention to ensure that, when they come out of the armed forces—as Sarah Boyack and James Kelly said—a decent house is available for them, as well as social work and psychological support services. I commend ministers for taking a close interest in matters such as medical facilities.

There is a problem that, fortunately, we are now recognising more and more. It pays us all in the long run to deal with such problems early, in a mature, conscientious fashion, not just from a financial perspective but because we owe it to those who have given so much for us.