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

2  Implementation across the UK

6. Significant progress has been made in implementing the Armed Forces Covenant throughout Great Britain. Progress made on the implementation of the Covenant across the UK was outlined by HM Government in both the Interim Report and first Annual Report on the Armed Forces Covenant. The Scottish and the Welsh Governments have also published comprehensive reports of the support they provide to the Armed Forces Community, and have appointed Armed Forces Advocates to sit on the Covenant Reference Group, which contributes to the Annual Report on the Armed Forces Covenant.

7. We have received mixed evidence, however, about the level of progress that has been made on implementing the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland. On the one hand, the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Mike Penning MP, who carries particular responsibility for its implementation in Northern Ireland, told us:

    around about 93%—it is very difficult to be exactly precise, but about 93%—of the Covenant is being delivered on a regular basis within the Province.[5]

On the other hand, the written submission from the Northern Ireland Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committee (NIVAPC), a statutory body established by HM Government to support veterans in Northern Ireland, took a less positive view of progress, stating:

    There is a perceived lack of movement with regards to implementing the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland. Some Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly use Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act to veto any attempt to implement the AFC and some others use it as an excuse to do nothing, This should not mean that we should do nothing as this leaves the Service and Ex-Service Communities in Northern Ireland at a disadvantage to the rest of the United Kingdom.[6]

The NIVAPC judged Northern Ireland not to have made the same progress as has been made in Great Britain in two areas in particular: failure to appoint an Armed Forces Advocate to represent Northern Ireland on the Covenant Reference Group, and not endorsing the principles outlined in the Covenant.

Annual Report on the Covenant

8. As required by the Armed Forces Act 2011, the Ministry of Defence published the first statutory Report on the Armed Forces Covenant on 6 December 2012.[7] The Report, compiled in consultation with the Covenant Reference Group (which brings together officials from across Government with Service charities and the Families Federations), considered the key principles of the Covenant and progress made towards its implementation across the United Kingdom. The Armed Forces Act 2011 requires the Secretary of State for Defence to "seek the views of any relevant devolved administration" when preparing the Annual Report on the Armed Forces Covenant.[8] There is, however, no statutory obligation for the devolved administrations to contribute to the Annual Report.

9. The first Annual Report stated that the Welsh Government Package of Support for the Armed Forces Community in Wales had been launched in November 2011, and the Scottish Government had published a report, Scottish Government support for the Armed Forces Community in Scotland, on 5 September 2012, each of which had set out its respective Government's actions so far as well as its future commitments. As for Northern Ireland, the Report stated:

    For this year's annual report, the views of the Northern Ireland Executive have been sought but not obtained. Where services are provided by the MOD, these are provided consistently throughout the UK.

There appeared to be a definite note of regret as the Report stated:

    In contrast to Scotland and Wales, it has not been possible to make the same progress in building support for and delivering the Armed Forces Covenant from within the Northern Ireland Executive. The suggestion that the Covenant could provide preferential access to cross-government services for serving and former members of the Armed Forces could be seen as running counter to their strict equalities legislation. We will continue to make the case for the Northern Ireland Executive to adopt the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant where it is possible to do so.

10. We welcome the work undertaken by the Scottish and the Welsh Governments on implementing the Armed Forces Covenant in Scotland and in Wales, in particular the comprehensive reports they have published on Government support available to the Armed Forces Community. We regret, as it would appear does the Ministry of Defence, that the Northern Ireland Executive has not yet published a similar report.

5   Q423 Back

6   Ev 98 Back

7   The Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2012, December 2012 Back

8   Armed Forces Act 2011, Section 2, Para 4 Back

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Prepared 17 July 2013