The Armed Forces Bill - Armed Forces Committee Contents

2  The Armed Forces Covenant

7. The most controversial aspect of this Armed Forces Bill relates to the Military Covenant. The Covenant is, at present, a largely unwritten social and moral commitment between the Nation, Government and Service personnel, which implies that in return for the sacrifices that Service personnel make, the State has an obligation to recognise that contribution and retains a long term duty of care toward Service personnel and their families. At present the Military Covenant has no statutory basis. The Coalition Government made a commitment in their "Programme for Government", published in May 2010 to "work to rebuild the Military Covenant".[3] The Government subsequently indicated an intention to enshrine the Military Covenant in law for the first time. On a visit to HMS Ark Royal in June 2010, the Prime Minister commented:

It's time for us to rewrite the Military Covenant to make sure we are doing everything we can.

[...]Whether it's the schools you send your children to, whether it's the healthcare that you expect, whether it's the fact that there should be a decent military ward for anyone who gets injured.

I want all these things refreshed and renewed and written down in a new Military Covenant that's written into the law of the land.[4]

8. An independent Task Force on the Military Covenant, chaired by Professor Hew Strachan, was established in summer 2010 to support the work to "rebuild the Military Covenant" and published its Report on 8 December 2010.[5] The Task Force made various recommendations as to how the Government could rebuild the Covenant through various local and national initiatives, such as the Armed Forces Community Covenant. During our evidence session with Covenant policy officials on Thursday 3 February, Gavin Barlow, Director Service Personnel Policy, MoD, said that the Government would be replying to the Task Force's Report in the spring.[6]

9. Clause 2 of the Bill makes provision for the Secretary of State to make an annual report to Parliament on the Armed Forces Covenant. The clause refers to various broad and undefined categories of welfare that must be covered by an annual report covering "healthcare", "housing", "education" and any other "field" that may be determined by the Secretary of State.[7]

10. As a Committee, we found that there were some aspects of the Government's plans in relation to the Covenant on which we were unable to find a consensus, as evidenced by the robust debate in the formal consideration stage of our deliberations.[8] To a certain extent our disagreement reflects the strong opinions and emotions that discussions about the Armed Forces Covenant evoke. There were, however a number of conclusions on which there was clear consensus. First and foremost, we are of the view that military service is a sacrifice of a unique nature, and individuals who undertake to serve their country in this way should be recognised as having made a special contribution to British society.

11. The evidence that we received, particularly from Service charities and voluntary organisations, highlighted to us the importance of recognising the needs of all three Services. A clear difficulty begins with the commonplace reference to the "Military Covenant", a concept familiar within the Army, but far less so in the other Services.[9] This is a problem that clearly requires further thought and clear communication from the MoD. As a first step, in the interest of inclusivity, we recommend that effort be made to refer consistently to the "Armed Forces Covenant" rather than the "Military Covenant".

12. In relation to the planned Annual Report on the Armed Forces Covenant, there was particular debate as to the future role of the External Reference Group.[10] While consensus was not clear as to whether the Group should have a particular role in relation to the Report, it was clear from our evidence with the Charities and Family Federations who sit on the Group that it played a key role in a broader sense, and had improved engagement between the MoD and these key stakeholders.[11] It was apparent to all of us that the work of the External Reference Group has been highly valuable. Our evidence clearly shows that this Group presents a vital means by which the voluntary sector can relay key messages from personnel and their families and make a genuine contribution to policy. It would be a considerable loss if this Group were disbanded or sidelined as a result of this legislation. It is essential that this important forum continues and we recommend that a change to its terms of reference is made to give the Group a broader, more permanent role for the future.

3   HM Government, The Coalition: Our Programme for Government, 20 May 2010, p 15 Back

4   MoD press notice, "Military covenant to be enshrined in law", 25 June 2010, available at Back

5   MoD, Report of the Task Force on the Military Covenant, 8 December 2010. See also MoD press notice, "Government commits to progress on rebuilding Military Covenant", 8 December 2010, available at Back

6   Q 59 Back

7   See HC Deb January 10 2011, Col 48 Back

8   Annex, 10 February 2011 and 15 February 2011  Back

9   Q 180, Qq 183-184, Q 310, Q 339, Q 369, and Q 388 Back

10   The External Reference Group consists of officials from across Government along with other stakeholders, including charities and voluntary organisations, with a remit to examine the implementation of the Service Personnel Command Paper published July 2008. For further details on remit and membership, see The Nation's Commitment: Cross Government Support to our Armed Forces, Their Families and Veterans: External Reference Group Annual Report 2010, 12 November 2010 Back

11   Q 312, Qq 314-316, Q 320, Qq 348-357, and Qq 380-383 Back

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