Last week the Governmentpublished the tri-Service Armed Forces Covenant for the first time andannounced that, with an amendment to the Armed Forces Bill, its principles wouldfinally be enshrined in law.
The covenant is a statement ofthe moral obligation which exists between the nation, the Government and theArmed Forces. The core principles are that members of the Armed ForcesCommunity do not suffer disadvantages as a result of their service and thatthey receive special treatment where appropriate.
These principles, put into lawthrough an amended Armed Forces Bill, will set the tone for future governmentpolicy dedicated to improving support for the Armed Forces Community and islong overdue.
Announcing the publication of theArmed Forces Covenant in Parliament, Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox was rightwhen he said that the Government had no higher duty than the defence of therealm. The ties between the nation, its Government and its Armed Forces, hesaid, were not the product of rules and regulations but that they ran muchdeeper than that.
""The Armed Forces Covenant doesnot need to be a long and detailed charter. It should be a simple and timelessstatement of the moral obligation that we owe. We are therefore publishing anew version of the covenant, written for the first time on a tri-Servicebasis.""
The Armed Forces Bill will alsorequire the Defence Secretary to report to Parliament every year on theprogress of improvements to the covenant in key areas including healthcare,housing and education.
What’s more, the DefenceSecretary will widely consult interested parties in writing the report, whichwill be subject to independent scrutiny by Parliament as well as members of theExternal Reference Group, which includes Service charities.
By writing these principles inlaw the existence of the covenant is being recognised in statute for the firsttime, as promised by Prime Minister David Cameron last year.
These measures will also providea regular review of the policies that will make greater support to our ArmedForces a reality and ensure that Parliament can scrutinise this review throughthe annual report, and that the report itself is widely informed, consultativeand transparent.
I and many others signed the MilitaryCovenant and believe this is a sensible way forward. It will give the rightkind of legal basis to the Armed Forces Covenant for the first time in ourhistory, it will enshrine the principles in law, provide a regular review ofthe policies that will make them a reality, ensure that Parliament has a chanceto scrutinise this review through the annual report, and that the report itselfis widely informed, consultative and transparent.
Our understanding of the covenantwill change over time, as will the way in which Government and society meet it.The framework that has been set out provides the flexibility we need so thatnot only the Government but all of society can fully pay the enormous debt theyowe our Armed Forces, their families and our veterans.
But it also must be said thatmeasures to rebuild the covenant since the Coalition Government took officehave also taken place. These are: doubling the Operational Allowance; includingService children within the Pupil Premium; introducing scholarships for thechildren of bereaved Service families. And we have taken action to improvemental healthcare. Additional measures to tackle some of the problemsexperienced by serving personnel, their families and veterans will also be setup including a new Community CovenantGrant scheme - with funding of £30m over the next four years to support actionby local communities to support our Armed Forces and veterans; a Veterans Card that will allow access todiscounts and privileges and an increase in the rate of Council Tax Relief formilitary personnel serving on operations overseas from 25 to 50 per cent.
I am certain that most people herein East Devon will agree the obligation we owe to our servicemen and women, setagainst the commitment and sacrifice which they make, is enormous. We in turnmust play our part as citizens to support them.