Anna Soubry – 2019 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Anna Soubry, the Independent MP for Broxtowe, in the House of Commons on 29 March 2019.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). I do not agree with much of what he says, but I will say this in his favour: at least he is consistent with the arguments he has made repeatedly in this place for why this is a bad deal. He and I will be in the same Lobby tonight—for different reasons—and actually I agree with much of what he says about the deal.

Apparently hon. Members now decry consistency. It is quite bizarre—forgive me, Mr Speaker, for repeating comments I made only a few days ago—that hon. Members think it entirely proper and honourable that they should be allowed to change their vote and their minds but that the British people should be denied exactly the same right on this matter. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) is one such person. He voted against the Prime Minister’s deal, then he voted for it, and he will again vote for it today.

In all the shameful shenanigans that have embraced Brexit, we have sunk to real depths today, and I want to explain why. It is not good enough for people to stand up and say, as we have heard, that they will now vote for the deal, not because they think it might be good for our country or our constituents, but because it will stop an extension—even though the Government have made it clear that no further extensions would be allowed. It is perverse for hon. Members to say they will now vote for the deal because it prevents our taking part in European parliamentary elections. These are not good reasons.

Other Government Members have said they will vote for the Prime Minister’s deal on the basis that the Prime Minister will stand down. That is not acting with honour; that is not acting with principle. I will vote with the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel)—she remains my friend and always will be. At least she has been true ​to her principles. She stands and says that she will not vote for the deal and rightly says that she will be held to account by her constituents. I congratulate her on that. We do not always agree—we do not agree on this issue—but on many points we do agree about why this withdrawal agreement is bad for our country.

I pay tribute to the Democratic Unionist party. [Interruption.] The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice decries that. He has not even let me finish my sentence. As a grouping, I have grave difficulties with the DUP, as individuals I find most of them pleasant, but at least they have been consistent, and on this I absolutely agree with them. This withdrawal agreement is a genuine threat to the Union of the United Kingdom. I genuinely believe that. It is one of the reasons why I am in fear of this agreement. I believe that it is a threat to Northern Ireland and its relationship as part of our United Kingdom. I believe that the same is true of Scotland. I believe that Brexit will increase the desire of the Scottish people to break away from the Union and strike out by themselves, because they will see a future as a member of the European Union denied them as part of the United Kingdom. In Wales, too, we know that the number of remain voters continues to grow.

I agree with the comments made by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) and the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) that the division between the political declaration and the withdrawal agreement will make the certainty that British businesses are crying out for even less achievable. It is so regrettable, given that we have started finally on a process of indicative votes—something that, as you know, Mr Speaker, many of us were crying out for at the beginning of this process to bring unity; to bring the 48% and the 52% together to form a consensus. We have begun that process and we are making good progress in it, and I think that there will be some good and reasonable outcomes that will heal the divide and take us forward in the way that we need to go.

What sort of country have we become post the referendum? Are we a better country? Are we a happier country? Are we a more united country? Or is the absolute reality that we are not just as divided as we were in June 2016 but even more divided? Change will come because change has to come, because British politics is broken. We are seeing that change. I have left the Conservative party along with two others. I think more will follow. I think we will see the break-up of the two parties, and I am delighted today that the group that I have joined with former Labour Members has today formed itself into a new political party that will change the face and direction of British politics. That is why we call ourselves change.org—[Interruption.] I believe that that is what the British people are crying out for—leadership, honesty, integrity and a new way of doing politics. That is the only good thing that will come out of the Brexit chaos.

Anna Soubry – 2019 Speech on the UK’s Departure from the European Union

Below is the text of the speech made by Anna Soubry, the Independent MP for Broxtowe, in the House of Commons on 14 March 2019.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins). I rise to support amendment (h), tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) in support of a people’s vote.

The people’s vote is not about the four of us who attended the event just over a year ago when we launched the People’s Vote campaign, although I am proud that the hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) and I will all tonight be true to our word and vote for a people’s vote. At the launch we were members of four parties; we are now, of course, in different positions. But as I say, it is not about us. We are not the people’s vote.

The people’s vote is not even Susan and Linda, who go out every weekend as members of the Nottinghamshire People’s Vote campaign, not only in West Bridgford, where we were on Saturday, but in all weathers and all circumstances. They have been to Ashfield and to Mansfield. They have stood and made the case for a people’s vote, not only in bad weather but, frankly, in other adverse conditions, and they do it with a burning passion. They do it because they believe that our great nation has made a mistake, but they do not do it to thwart Brexit. They do not do it to stop Brexit; they do it as I do, and as I know many other Members do: because we believe with passion that this matter must now go back to the British people. It is the only way through the mess.

It may be when I am long gone, but there will undoubtedly be an inquiry into what happened and how this great country came to find itself in a position of leaving the European Union—and, notwithstanding last night’s vote, I still gravely fear that we could do so without a deal. The inquiry will record that there was a lack of honesty, courage and leadership, not only in this place but among journalists and businesses—among people who said things in private but simply failed to do the right thing in public when it was needed for our country.

The moment is now. I apologise if I caused offence by crying out “Shame” earlier, but I say gently to colleagues in the Labour party, many of whom I have huge respect for—they know that I work cross-party with them on all manner of campaigns and will always continue to do so—that they know in their hearts the courage of my friend the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley). Her constituency voted leave in the number it did, but she has led in her constituency and persuaded the people of her constituency to back a people’s vote. She has shown courage, honesty and leadership. We cannot wait for the Labour Front-Bench team—they are Brexiteers. They do not want a people’s vote because they are frightened that the people will change their mind. If we do not do the right thing, that will be our legacy, knowing that people did not want it. We cannot let it happen.

Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston – 2019 Resignation Letter

Below is the text of the resignation letter sent to Theresa May, the Prime Minister, by Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston on 20 February 2019.

Dear Prime Minster

It is with regret that we are writing to resign the Conservative whip and our membership of the Party.

We voted for you as Leader and Prime Minister because we believed you were committed to a moderate, open-hearted Conservative Party in the One Nation tradition. A party of economic competence, representing the best of British business, delivering good jobs, opportunity and prosperity for all, funding world class public services and tackling inequalities. We had hoped you would also continue to modernise our party so that it could reach out and broaden its appeal to younger voters and to embrace and reflect the diversity of the communities we seek to represent.

Sadly, the Conservative Party has increasingly abandoned these principles and values with a shift to the right of British Politics. We no longer feel we can remain in the Party of a Government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP.

Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it. There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hard line ERG which operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy.

This shift to the right has been exacerbated by blatant entryism. Not only has this been tolerated, it has been actively welcomed in some quarters. A purple momentum is subsuming the Conservative Party, much as the hard left has been allowed to consume and terminally undermine the Labour Party.

We have tried consistently and for some time to keep the Party close to the centre ground of British Politics. You assured us when you first sought the leadership that this was your intention. We haven’t changed, the Conservative Party has and it no longer reflects the values and beliefs we share with millions of people throughout the United Kingdom.

The final straw for us has been this Government’s disastrous handling of Brexit.

Following the EU referendum of 2016, no genuine effort was made to build a cross party, let alone a national consensus to deliver Brexit. Instead of seeking to heal the divisions or to tackle the underlying causes of Brexit, the priority was to draw up “red lines”. The 48% were not only sidelined, they were alienated.

We find it unconscionable that a Party once trusted on the economy, more than any other, is now recklessly marching the country to the cliff edge of no deal. No responsible government should knowingly and deliberately inflict the dire consequences of such a destructive exit on individuals, communities and businesses and put at risk the prospect of ending austerity.

We also reject the false binary choice that you have presented to Parliament between a bad deal and no deal. Running down the clock to March 20 amounts to a policy of no deal and we are not prepared to wait until our toes are at the edge of the cliff.

We can no longer act as bystanders.

We intend to sit as independents alongside The Independent Group of MPs in the centre ground of British politics. There will be times when we will support the Government, for example, on measures to strengthen our economy, security and improve our public services. But we now feel honour bound to put our constituents’ and country’s interests first.

We would like to thank all those who have supported us and worked alongside us within our constituencies over many years. We genuinely wish our many friends and colleagues within the Party well, indeed we know many of them share our concerns.

We will continue to work constructively, locally and nationally, on behalf of our constituents.

However, the country deserves better. We believe there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative Party but in both main parties as they

move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part.

Yours sincerely

Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston

Anna Soubry – 2017 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Anna Soubry, the Conservative MP for Broxtowe, in the House of Commons on 26 June 2017.

It is a great honour and pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden). I agree with much of what he said and, indeed, with the excellent speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb). As ever, I also endorse much of what was said by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn).

People right across this House, and indeed this country, have to be utterly realistic and honest about this and accept that everything has now changed. In my constituency, I found very few angry remainers—I know there are many angry remainers, but it tends to be a London-based thing, and the results in London for the Conservative party say it all. However, in my constituency, there are very few angry remainers. What there is is an acceptance of the result and almost a sense of resignation—it is not agreement, and it is not a welcome. That is especially true of constituents who run their own businesses, who did not welcome the result and who do not welcome the fact that we are leaving the European Union. However, people have accepted the referendum result, and their message and their plea now is that we should come together and get the best deal we can in the national interest.

That is why I am so pleased that we are already seeing changes in the approach being taken, and many other hon. and right hon. Members have expressed that view. I repeat much of what was said from the Opposition Front Bench about the need to change the tone. Those on the Government Front Bench need to wake up and understand that things have now changed. The rhetoric has to be dropped. The slogan that no deal is better than a bad deal is nonsense, and it has always been nonsense. The British people know that, and that is why they voted as they did on 8 June.

Nobody likes somebody being very smart, but I am going to have to say this: I stood up in this place—on this spot—on two occasions, and I warned hon. and right hon. Friends of the dangers of ignoring the 48%, and the young in particular. The expression I used was that many young people who voted remain believe an older generation have stolen their future, and the result was there on 8 June. I hate to have been proved right, but I was. Look at the demographics of the results; they almost mirror those from the referendum. The older people were, the more likely they were to have voted Conservative; the younger ones—obviously, in my terms, that is anybody under the age of about 50—did not. More people under the age of 45 voted Labour in the election.

Of course it is profoundly ironic that people who voted remain then voted for the Labour party and the Leader of the Opposition—a man who gave remain a very lukewarm seven and a half out of 10. If I may say so, Opposition Members, too, now have to wake up and accept the reality of the situation, because they have promised many of these people things they may not be able to deliver on. When they talk about the customs union, the single market and immigration, they now have to say what they mean, and they should stop being cowards about it: if they think they want the benefits of the customs union, they should have the—I nearly said a very unparliamentary word—courage to stand up and say that. They should make the case, and make the argument, just as we now need to make the case and make the argument about the benefits of immigration.

Finally, this is a great country. We still have a very good economy. We have a great and bright future. That is not because we are leaving the European Union, but despite it. We now need to make sure we have the education and training to seize those opportunities.

Anna Soubry – 2017 Speech on Withdrawal from the EU

Below is the text of the speech made by Anna Soubry in the House of Commons on 31 January 2017.

It is with a heavy heart, and against my long-held belief that the interests of this country are better served by our being a member of the European Union, that I shall support the Bill. In 2015, I promised the good people of Broxtowe that, if I was elected to represent them for another term, and in accordance with my party’s manifesto, I would vote for an in/out referendum on our EU membership, agreeing, in the words of David Cameron, that the people would “settle the matter”. I promised to respect and honour the vote. On 9 June 2015, along with 544 Members of this place, I agreed to that referendum, and in so doing I agreed to be bound by the result.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) was not in favour of that referendum and did not vote for it, so he is, of course, free and able to vote against the Bill. I am sure it is no coincidence that he happens to enjoy a considerably large number of people in his constituency who voted remain, and that he has—quite wrongly, in my view—announced that he will not be standing again in 2020. I say to Opposition Members, though, that you cannot go back on your word because you do not agree with the result.

I believe that history will not be kind to this Parliament, nor, indeed, to the Government I was so proud to serve in. How on earth did we ever come to put to the people an alternative that we then said would make them worse off and less safe and would weaken our nation? I echo the wise words of some of the speech by my new friend, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), when I say that I greatly fear that generations that either did not vote or are yet to come will not thank us for our great folly. Neither will they forgive those who since 23 June have chosen not to be true to their long-held views—those who have remained mute as our country has turned its back on the benefits of the free movement of people, a single market and the customs union, without a debate, far less any vote in this place. Why is that? It needs to be said and recorded that our Government have decided that the so-called control of immigration, which actually means the reduction in immigration—that is what so many people in our constituencies believe—is worth more than the considerable benefits of the single market and the customs union.

What has been even more upsetting is the fact that Members on the Labour Front Bench have connived with the Government. The Government were never going to give us the opportunity to debate these important matters, for reasons that I genuinely understand and, indeed, respect, but for the Labour party to go against everything it has ever believed in is really quite shameful. It is a combination of incompetence on its Front Bench and a deep division among so many, with a few honourable exceptions—among whom I of course include the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). They have turned their backs on their long-standing belief in the free movement of people and failed to make the positive case for immigration.

The referendum vote exposed a deeply divided Britain, and that has been exposed in no place better than in the Labour party. Labour Members have been petrified—literally frozen to the spot—looking over one shoulder and seeing that their constituency Labour parties have been taken over by the extreme left, and beyond that, in many instances, that up to 70% of their own voters voted leave.

What has happened to our country? Businesses have fallen silent, scared to speak up and to speak out. I think they believe it is all going to be fine—that we are not really going to leave the EU, we will not really leave the single market and we will not really leave the customs union. They are going to get a sharp shock.

Alberto Costa

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when she, I and other Members of this House voted, rightly, to give the British people the ultimate say in this matter, we did not vote to take away the rights of EU citizens like my parents who live in this country? It is disgraceful that, as it stands today, we are not honouring their rights.

Anna Soubry

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, whom I include among those many brave souls on the Government Benches who, in the face of abuse and even death threats, have stood up and been true to what they believe in.

Why has there been this outbreak of silence? I quote the wise words of Edmund Burke:

“Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field.”

That is what has happened, but now it must stop. We must now make sure that everybody is free and able to stand up and say what they believe, and that people no longer cower in fear of four newspapers and this never-ending chorus, which I do not believe represents my constituents.

Chris Bryant

We are very grateful on the Labour Benches for all the advice the right hon. Lady is giving us. I am sure her own Back Benchers are grateful as well, sometimes.

Was the right hon. Lady a member of the Government who tried to cut net migration to tens of thousands? Did she stand as a Conservative Member in the most recent general election and the one before on a manifesto that pledged to cut net migration to tens of thousands? I just ask.

Anna Soubry

I do not think anybody would say that I have not been forthright in putting forward my views about the positive benefits of immigration to our country. The best way that the Government can reduce those figures is, of course, to take out overseas students. If only they would do that; it would be the right thing to do.

Notwithstanding the considerable abilities and efforts of our Prime Minister and Government, as we embark on these negotiations I remain far from convinced that we will get any good deal. Like the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), I do not believe that in two years we will secure a good bespoke deal on trade, the customs union and our nation’s security. I hope very much to be proved wrong, and I will, of course, support the Prime Minister and our Government as they embark on the most important and difficult set of negotiations in decades, with consequences for generations to come.

What happens if no deal is secured? It is difficult to see how any Government could put to this place a deal that they believe to be inadequate in some way. I want, please, assurances from the Government that, in the event of no good deal being reached, all options will be placed before this House, and that we, on behalf of all our constituents and our businesses, will decide what happens next. We may need more time. We certainly do not want to jump off the cliff into World Trade Organisation tariffs when we are out of the single market and the customs union as that would be dangerous for our businesses in all sectors and of all sizes.

Let us now begin to heal the wounds and the divides, so that we can come together to get the best deal for our country as we leave the European Union.

Anna Soubry – 2016 Statement on BHS

CBI Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Anna Soubry in the House of Commons on 25 April 2016.

Thank you very much Madame Deputy Speaker and with your permission I would like to make a statement to update the House on the latest position following the announcement this morning that British Home Stores has filed for administration.

This is obviously a very difficult time for all the employees, somewhere between 8,500 thousand perhaps as many as 11,000 people work in their many stores across the UK. Of course we bear in mind the fact that it’s also very difficult time for the many creditors who will be concerned especially with those with small businesses.

BHS, is a name synonymous with British high streets for over 80 years and has been an important player in the history of British retail. The company still has a significant high street presence with 164 stores nationwide, as I say with somewhere around 8,500 to 11,000 employees. I recognize that consumer trends are changing moving away from high street shopping and increasingly towards online retail channels, which continues to see the retail landscape change.

Today – and the last few days of media speculation – as I say have been particularly troubling for BHS’s workers and their families. There is a clear message going out to all staff today, and that is that BHS is still open for business as usual. There are no plans for immediate redundancies or store closures, and that the administrators are looking to sell BHS as a going concern.

If this proves not to be possible, then the Government will obviously stand ready to offer its assistance, including through Jobcentre Plus’ Rapid Response Service, to help people move into new jobs as quickly as possible.

Now there has been a lot of comment and speculation about the BHS pension scheme. It is the fact the pension regulator is investigating a number of concerns and indeed allegations. I understand the BHS scheme is in the early stage of a Pension Protection Fund (PPF) assessment, during which time the PPF will determine the final funding position of the scheme and whether it should assume responsibility for it.

Madame Deputy Speaker the retail sector is a crucial one for the UK economy. The total value of retail sales (excluding fuel) in 2015 was £340 billion. The value of retail sales has increased every year for the last twelve years, though in 2015 volume of sales grew faster than values indicating a decline in prices overall. The sector accounts for 3 million jobs; almost a third of those employees are under 25.

We intend to ensure that this success continues. In the budget this year the Government announced the biggest ever cut in business rates in England, worth £6.7bn over the next 5 years.

But with that and other matters I commend this statement to the house.

Anna Soubry – 2016 Statement on the UK Steel Industry

CBI Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Anna Soubry, the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, on 18 January 2016.

This morning, Tata Steel announced plans to make over 1,000 redundancies across its UK strip business as part of its continuing restructuring plans. The proposals involve 750 job losses at Port Talbot, 200 redundancies in support functions at Llanwern, and 100 redundancies at steel mills in Trostre, Corby and Hartlepool. This will be a difficult time for all the workers and their families, and our thoughts must be with them. Our immediate focus will be on helping any workers who lose their jobs back into employment as quickly as possible. We will also continue to support the steel industry.

Given the United Kingdom’s devolution settlement, much of the support that can be offered in south Wales, both to the workers and to Tata Steel, will come from the Welsh government, but the UK government want to ensure that Port Talbot has a commercial and sustainable future. It is encouraging that the Welsh government are to launch a taskforce this week – I believe that it is to meet for the first time on Wednesday – to support those affected by today’s announcement. We have offered our support to the chair of the taskforce, Edwina Hart, and we will continue to work with the Welsh government. I welcome the commitment that the First Minister made today to work closely with the UK government. I am confident that the Welsh government will accede to our request to play a full part in the taskforce. I can assure hon. members that we are also working closely with the Secretary of State for Wales – he is there today, which is why he is not in the House.

It is important to remember that the fundamental problem facing our steel industry is the fall in world prices, caused by the over-production and under-consumption of steel. We know, for example, that the price of slab has almost halved over the past 12 months, and that Tata has been losing £1 million a day as a result of the slump in prices. All that the industry has asked for – this includes the unions – is a level playing field, and that is what we are achieving. The government have been working closely with Tata to do all we can to ensure a sustainable future for Tata Steel in the United Kingdom, both at Port Talbot and at Scunthorpe. We have offered our assistance to Tata as it seeks to find a buyer for its long products division. It is encouraging that it has announced that Greybull Capital is its preferred bidder. We remain in close contact with Tata as its commercial negotiations continue. The government stand ready to play our part to help secure Scunthorpe’s long-term future.

Returning to today’s announcement, the same offer is there for Port Talbot. Tata is currently working with consultants to develop a plan to address the near-term competitiveness of its business at Port Talbot. We and the Welsh government are in regular dialogue with Tata. This dialogue includes my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, as well as my officials and, of course, me. While the future of Port Talbot must be commercially led, we will help where we can within the parameters of state aid rules. I want to make it absolutely clear that, in the words of the Prime Minister, we are unequivocal in saying that steel is a vital industry. This government are determined that steel is produced not just at Scunthorpe but at Port Talbot, and that it has a sustainable future.

As I say, we are creating the level playing field that the industry has asked of us. It set out 5 asks when we had our steel summit back at the end of last year. On dealing with lower energy costs, in December we secured state aid approval to pay further compensation to energy-intensive industries (EIIs), including steel, to include renewables policy costs. We have already paid about £60 million to the steel industry to help to mitigate the costs of existing energy policies. The new state approval will enable us now to extend the scope of compensation. It will go live tomorrow, enabling steel and other energy-intensive industries to apply. That will save the steel industry about £100 million over the financial year – roughly 30% of its energy bills – but we are going to go even further and exempt EIIs from most of these costs. Our support for these industries will save them hundreds of millions of pounds over the next 5 years.

The sector asked for flexibility over EU emissions regulations, and that is exactly what we have secured. Derogations for Port Talbot have already been agreed by Natural Resources Wales. The Environment Agency has accepted Tata Steel’s proposals for derogations for improving emissions from Scunthorpe, subject to a current public consultation. Once approved, this will give it a further 6 years to improve emission levels from the coke ovens. Both of Tata Steel’s major power plants have been included in the UK transitional plan that the UK has submitted to the European Union. This gives it until June 2020 – a further 4 years – to meet the emission requirements. These actions will save the industry millions of pounds.

We have further updated and published, specifically and properly, new guidance about procurement, of which mention was made during Defence questions. We are the first country in the European Union to take advantage of and implement these new flexibilities, so social impact, job impact and staff safety can now be taken into account. In short, there is no excuse not to, and every reason to, buy British steel. Having just met the Aluminium Federation, I want to make it clear and put it on the record that those procurement rules include aluminium.

I have heard it said that the government have blocked the reform of trade defence investigation, but they have not. I can assure the House that the government have been acting decisively to safeguard the United Kingdom’s steel interests in Europe. In July last year, and again in November, we voted in favour of anti-dumping measures on certain steel imports. The United Kingdom lobbied successfully in support of industry calls for an investigation into imports of reinforcing steel bar. I hope that we will have an announcement soon on the result of those actions under the excellent leadership of the Business Secretary. The European Commission has taken this forward swiftly, including responding quickly to industry requests to register imports. The United Kingdom secured an extraordinary meeting of the EU’s Competitiveness Council and agreed faster action. Next month I will return to follow that up at a stakeholder conference where I will push for further progress.

The review of business rates in England will conclude this year. Of course, the Welsh government, because this is devolved, have responsibility for business rates in Port Talbot and other parts of Tata’s workings in Wales.

We have seen today that the steel industry remains subject to unprecedented global pressures. While the immediate causes of these are beyond the government’s control, I can assure the House that we continue to do all we can to help this industry, and we will stand by all the workers who face redundancy in south Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom.

Anna Soubry – 2014 Speech to MOD Welfare Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Anna Soubry, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, on the 19th March 2014.

Introduction

It’s somehow fitting that the MOD Main Building is our venue today, since this was once the site of the Palace of Whitehall and the former residence of Queen Elizabeth I.

The Virgin Queen once said: “God has given such brave soldiers to this Crown that, if they do not frighten our neighbours, at least they prevent us from being frightened by them.”

And it was she who first introduced a groundbreaking statute ensuring disabled army veterans “should at their return be relieved and rewarded to the end that they may reap the fruit of their good deservings and others may be encouraged to perform the like endeavours.”

More than 4 centuries on and the sense of the duty we owe to those who lay their lives on the line remains undiminished. If anything it has grown stronger with the passing of every campaign from Iraq and Libya to Afghanistan.

The Covenant

We all know that reintegrating into society after life on the frontline isn’t easy. It’s testament to how good our people are that our employment statistics are so good.

But we owe it to our service personnel to do everything we can to help, whether that means continuing their medical care after they leave the service, helping their children find a place in school or enabling to get a foot on the housing ladder.

That is why the government has enshrined its covenant with the armed services in law.

It means that no current or former member of the armed forces, or their families should be disadvantaged compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services.

We honour the covenant in a variety of ways.

Not just by putting our money where our mouth is and providing, from next spring, a permanent £10 million financial commitment in perpetuity.

But through a comprehensive welfare package.

Aside from all the statutory support available from other departments, devolved administrations and local authorities…we are introducing the New Employment Model…giving service personnel an expectation of being stationed in the same part of the country for significantly longer periods

– we’ll soon be bringing in the Forces Help to Buy scheme, to address the low rate of home ownership in the armed forces

– we’ve put £1.8 billion into the new Army Basing Plan so we can make best use of our estate across the UK from Catterick to Colchester

– and we will be spending £1 billion on brand new accommodation, meaning almost 2,000 new family homes are built as well as nearly 8,000 new homes for single soldiers.

Society must back armed forces

But my first point today is that the covenant isn’t just about MOD or even the rest of government. It is about society’s commitment as a whole to our armed forces.

We’re looking to business and local authorities to offer employment support and improved access to local amenities. That’s why we introduced the corporate and community covenant to garner their support.

But, above all we’re looking to our charities, many in this room. You know how important it is that people should stop thinking of all veterans as victims and celebrate their success in wider society.

And from talking, as I do, to many of our veterans, especially the younger ones, I have discovered that some don’t know that help is out there.

There is clearly, for some, a disconnect.

You know how important it is that they get the help to help themselves.

You know how to intervene to make that possible. And you know how to deliver.

As Lord Ashcroft pointed out in his transition report there ‘is no shortage of provision for service leavers and most do well’.

What is significant about the charity approach in these cash strapped times is that you’ve discovered collaboration is the mother of invention.

Look at the way the third sector has become increasingly adept at harmonising their activities.

From the pitch perfect Military Wives Choir Foundation.

To the work of Sorted! and COBSEO’s forces in mind, assisting veterans’ transition to civvie street. Look too at how charities and government are working hand in glove whether on Personnel Recovery Centres or putting Libor funds to work.

And so far those funds have supported hundreds of projects across the country with more than £45 million of grants.

I recently saw this for myself when I went down to Brighton to visit Blind Veterans UK.

They are using a £1 million Libor grant to refurbish accommodation for current and future residents.

And I was delighted to announce a further £40 million for this financial year to fund accommodation for veterans with a housing need across the UK.

Need for increased collaboration

But this brings me to my second key point. All this collaboration that we see at a local level or on individual projects must become the rule not the exception.

It must be more integrated on a national scale.

Some will say this means more work we don’t need.

But…as we drawdown from Afghanistan and Germany…with larger numbers of veterans returning from extended periods abroad

…as the spotlight once trained on our armed forces, turns away again, casting a shadow on your future funding …we will struggle to provide our ex-service personnel with the same high quality service unless we collaborate.

And by co-ordinating efforts nationally, sharing understanding and best practice

– preventing duplication of resource

– seeing the woods for the trees

– we can make best use of what we’ve got

We’re already moving in the right direction.

At a charity summit in October last year the penny dropped.

We collectively agreed to create a National Veterans Strategy with a shared vision for veterans.

This work continues apace.

Admiral Williams met key charities to agree the plan and set out ambitious schedule to deliver a revised Nat Vets Strategy by the Autumn.

It’s a pretty tight timescale but COBSEO is planning workshops for end of April make, look out for them and make sure your voice is heard.

Conclusion

So we’ve achieved an immense amount already.

But veterans is only one aspect of our welfare agenda.

Our challenge today is to map out what else we can do to support the armed forces community.

We’ve got all the right elements in place.

The right people, the right motivation and, in this former palace of Whitehall, a touch of royal inspiration.

So let’s be ambitious.

Let’s think big.

And make sure our wonderful service men and women get everything they deserve.