VE Day 65th. Anniversary 12th. May 2010

I congratulate Stewart Maxwell on securing the debate. Like him—although perhaps for a shorter time—I was a minister with responsibility for veterans. Of all my responsibilities, that was probably the one that I regarded as being the greatest privilege and the one for which I felt most inadequate. I regarded the job as being very serious; there is a huge responsibility on whoever has that job.

The reality is that whatever we say in the chamber or elsewhere will be insufficient to match the courage and sacrifice of a generation that fought against fascism, defended the country, put their own lives at risk and paid the ultimate sacrifice. It was clearly a battle of good against evil. As we reflect on those times, we remember how quickly the ideas of fascism could catch hold and what a challenge they were to everybody's lives throughout the world when they did so. It is important not only to mark the celebration but to acknowledge the struggle and what caused it.

We have a people's history of the experience at that time and it is important that we capture that. There are records not only of the experience of those who fought, but of the impact on families and communities. They record the impact on large communities in the west of Scotland and on small seafaring communities, such as the one from which my family came in Tiree. Such small communities suffered a huge impact because they lost a generation of young men. The small monuments in those communities, along with the large ones in our big cities, reflect respect and commitment to a generation that fought on our behalf.

As we pass on from the general election, it is interesting to reflect that that generation not only fought fascism, but it came back determined to shape the world in which it lived. A disproportionate number of those people still go out to vote and understand the importance of doing so.

It is important to acknowledge that we now have veterans of all ages. We owe a duty not only to the elderly veterans; we must also recognise the particular needs of those who are involved in, or are recovering from, more recent struggles.

It is important to recognise the role of veterans organisations such as Veterans Scotland and Erskine that campaign and challenge those who make decisions about veterans' needs. We must recognise the huge housing needs that have been mentioned, the health needs and the need for support for families in caring for veterans. I heard on the radio the other day people talking about the impact on families after the second world war, when fathers came back to families where the children did not know them. That is still true today, and we need to ensure that the services to support them exist.

In these challenging funding times, we need to listen to veterans organisations and give assurances that, in the times when there are pressures on funding, veterans services will not miss out and that, in shaping services, we will talk to those who understand the needs and priorities.

Not a few years ago, on a visit to the United States I was struck by how that country manages to celebrate its veterans and soldiers regardless of the purpose or cause of the conflict: they are owed a duty of care and should be treated with respect regardless of what Government decisions had led them to conflict. We must find a way of doing that in our discourse so that it is about recognising not only what was done in the second world war or what is done now, but that people live daily with the consequences of decisions over which they had no control.

In the practical delivery of services to those veterans, we will honour those who, a long time ago, fought fascism in Europe and those who now take on serious responsibilities on our behalf. Because it is a cross-party issue, I look forward to the minister identifying the ways in which funding can be secured to meet the needs that veterans organisations have identified.