Written evidence from the Archbishops'
Council of the Church of England |
1. The Church of England welcomes the opportunity
to respond to the House of Commons Armed Forces Bill Committee's
inquiry into the provisions of the Armed Forces Bill. The Mission
and Public Affairs Council of the Church of England is the body
responsible for overseeing research and comment on social and
political issues on behalf of the Church. The Council comprises
a representative group of bishops, clergy and lay people with
interest and expertise in the relevant areas, and reports to the
General Synod through the Archbishops' Council.
2. Of the eight groupings of clauses set out
in the Bill, the focus of this submission is on Clause 2, on those
provisions that relate to the Military Covenant. The submission
draws on our own theological understanding of what "covenant"
entails as well as the insights on welfare matters provided by
chaplains that have served and are serving in the armed forces.
The insights of many church based voluntary services that provide
pastoral and welfare support to veterans and their family has
also informed this submission.
3. The Coalition Government's commitment to rebuilding
the Military Covenant is clearly reflected in this Bill and we
congratulate the Coalition Government for taking this step to
repair the Military Covenant.
4. We believe, however, that a legitimate and
convincing case can be made for ensuring that the annual report
to Parliament on the health of the military covenant is entrusted
to an independent reviewer of armed service welfare rather than
left to the discretion of the Secretary of State for Defence.
5. The Lord Bishop of Wakefield touched on these
matters in the recent debate that he sponsored in the House of
Lords last month.
This submission expands on these comments and makes practical
suggestions as to how this recommendation might be included within
the face of this Bill.
6. We agree with the assumption underpinning
the Bill's understanding of the military covenant, namely that
the covenant is fundamentally a moral rather than legal contract
involving the government, the nation and the armed forces. We
are therefore encouraged that the Bill does not propose a formal
legal contract or attempts to define in law the exact nature of
the relationships underpinning the Military Covenant. That we
believe is best done by the writing of a new Tri-Service Covenant.
The living out of any Covenant should remain dependent on the
commitment and trust between parties rather than on a more legalistic
and prescriptive contract in which outcomes and behaviour are
7. It follows from this that we agree that the
Bill's provisions should not explicitly state what welfare provisions
Service personnel, their dependants, or veterans should be entitled
to as part of any Military Covenant. We would encourage the Coalition
Government to resist any steps that might seek to set in law any
minimum standards of care.
8. Since the moral contract underpinning the
Military Covenant constitutes a reciprocal agreement with expectations
and obligations on both sides, we agree that a review mechanism
needs to be provided by law to ensure that the underlying trust
and commitments that binds parties together is monitored and maintained.
We do not however believe that the Bill's provisions stipulating
that the Secretary of State for Defence present an Armed Forces
Covenant Report to Parliament every year are adequate.
9. Any review undertaken should be done so independently
of the Ministry of Defence and other government departments. To
this end, we would suggest that Bill should make provision for
the Secretary of State to appoint a Reviewer of Armed Forces.
The Reviewer of Armed Forces Welfare could monitor and report
on the same provision of welfare services currently listed in
Clause 2 and make suitable recommendations accordingly.
10. We believe that the Reviewer should also
be able to consider other issues as s/he sees fit. This would
be consistent with Clause 2 paragraph 2b of the existing Bill.
The only limitation on such a provision would be if the Secretary
of State for Defence issued an order preventing the Reviewer from
undertaking any such review on grounds that it would put at risk
national security or operational requirement and efficiency.
11. We suggest that the cost of this post should
be met by the Ministry of Defence. To this end, the Secretary
of State for Defence should, before the beginning of each financial
year, specify a maximum sum which the Reviewer of Armed Forces
Welfare may spend on functions for that year. The proposed Reviewer
of Armed Forces Welfare should hold and vacate office in accordance
with terms of appointment (which may include provision about retirement,
resignation or dismissal).
12. We hold that the any such Reviewer of Armed
Forces Welfare should report in writing to the Secretary of State
every year on progress being made in meeting the welfare needs
of the Armed Forces, but that s/he should produce a full welfare
audit once every four calendar years. The Secretary of State for
Defence should be obliged to lay before Parliament a copy of any
report received from the Reviewer. A copy may of course omit material
if the Secretary of State for Defence thinks that its publication
is undesirable for reasons of national security, may effect operational
efficiency, or might jeopardise an individual's safety.
13. We believe that these proposals would be
consistent with the spirit of the Government's own desire to be
held accountable and to ensure that it and others are honoring
56 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/110127-0002.htm#11012761000712). Back