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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
MoD press notice, "Military covenant to be enshrined in law",
25 June 2010, available at www.mod.uk Back
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 www.mod.uk Back
Q 59 Back
See HC Deb January 10 2011, Col 48 Back
Annex, 10 February 2011 and 15 February 2011 Back
Q 180, Qq 183-184, Q 310, Q 339, Q 369, and Q 388 Back
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
Q 312, Qq 314-316, Q 320, Qq 348-357, and Qq 380-383 Back