Implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

The Armed Forces Covenant

1. The Armed Forces Covenant was published in May 2011 and set out the relationship between the people of the United Kingdom, Her Majesty's Government and the Armed Forces Community. It stressed the moral obligation the nation had to the Armed Forces Community, made up of serving and former members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Air Force, together with their families. Specifically, the Covenant stated:

    Those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether Regular or Reserve, those who have served in the past, and their families, should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. Special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and the bereaved.[1] (Emphasis supplied)

The Covenant identified fifteen themes within its scope, which included: Healthcare, Education, Housing, Benefits and Tax, Commercial Products and Services, Transition and Support After-Service. Many of these services are provided by the UK's devolved administrations, thereby making delivery of the Covenant a matter equally for HM Government and the respective devolved administrations.

2. We unreservedly endorse the key principles of the Armed Forces Covenant:

·  members of the Armed Forces Community should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens, and

·  special consideration may be appropriate in some cases.

3. The Covenant is recognised in the Armed Forces Act 2011, which cites the principles laid out in the Covenant, and which created a statutory duty on the Secretary of State for Defence to produce an Annual Report outlining progress on the Armed Forces Covenant.[2] The then Secretary of State for Defence, Rt Hon Liam Fox MP, described the thinking behind recognising the principles of the Covenant in law when he announced the Covenant in May 2011, stating:

    In deciding how best to recognise the covenant in law, the Government have had to maintain a careful balance. On the one hand, we do not want to see the chain of command undermined or the military permanently involved in human rights cases in the European courts. On the other, we must ensure that the legitimate aspirations of the wider service community, the armed forces charities and the British public for our armed forces are met.

    We believe that a sensible way forward - one that will give the right kind of legal basis to the armed forces covenant for the first time in our history - is to enshrine the principles in law, provide a regular review of the policies that will make them a reality, ensure that Parliament has a chance to scrutinise that review through the annual report, and ensure that the report itself is widely informed, consultative and transparent. I believe that it is right for the Government to be held to account on delivering the principles underpinning the covenant by this House, and not by the European Courts.[3]

Our inquiry

4. We announced our inquiry into The implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland on 13 December 2012. We agreed to take into account the progress made so far in implementing the Covenant in England, in Scotland and in Wales, and would examine progress in its implementation in Northern Ireland, including:

·  links between the Armed Forces Community in Northern Ireland and Departments of the NI Executive;

·  barriers to progress, statutory or otherwise, in implementing the Covenant;

·  the level of co-ordination between the NI Executive, the Northern Ireland Office, the Ministry of Defence and other relevant HM Government Departments; and

·  the absence of NI representation on the Covenant Reference Group.

Our inquiry has focused particularly on veterans in Northern Ireland.

5. We have taken evidence from witnesses including Armed Forces charities, representatives of Service Personnel, organisations concerned with the equality framework in Northern Ireland, Ministers from the Northern Ireland departments responsible for health and social housing, and Ministers from the Ministry of Defence and the Northern Ireland Office. A full list of the witnesses who gave evidence is included in this Report. We also held a number of meetings in Washington DC.[4] We are grateful to all those who contributed to our inquiry, whether by giving oral evidence, informal briefings or submitting written memoranda.

1   The Armed Forces Covenant, May 2011 Back

2   The relevant section of the Armed Forces Act 2011 is included with this Report as an Appendix. Back

3   HC Deb 16 May 2011, c26 Back

4   See the Annex for a note of meetings held in Washington DC relevant to this inquiry. Back

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Prepared 17 July 2013