In this contribution to the short debate Lord Bilimoria argues in support of the Armed Forces Covenant and believes that having it enshrined in law will help morale and recruitment. He also notes the support given to veterans and discusses areas such as the controls known as the harmony guidelines.

Armed Forces Covenant

09 January 2017

Question asked by the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the role of the Armed Forces Covenant in ensuring that those who serve or who have served in the Armed Forces, and their families, are treated with fairness and respect.

Lord Bilimoria:

My Lords, not one member of the UK Armed Forces was killed in operations in 2016. It was the first time since 1968 that no one had died—although, sadly, there were deaths on exercises. The Chilcot report exposed the way in which the MoD and Ministers ignored the strict controls known as harmony guidelines on the frequency and length of operational tours of duty that are there to protect the physical and mental health of our troops. Will the Minister talk to us about these guidelines?

The Chilcot report also revealed that in 2006 the then Sir Richard Dannatt, who was then commander-in-chief of UK land command, said:

“As an army, we are running hot, and our operational deployments are well above planned levels … Quite properly, we often talk about an implied contract—the ‘military covenant’—that as an army we have with our soldiers and their families and I fear that it is somewhat out of balance”.

Policy Exchange, in its report The Fog of Law, says that,

“human rights laws mean British troops operating in the heat of battle are now being held to the same standard as police officers patrolling the streets”,

of London. Is this applying the covenant? Surely, when it comes to our troops we should be applying IHL—the Geneva conventions—with primacy over human rights laws. Does the Minister agree?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for initiating this debate. Armed Forces families are living in squalor, with leaking roofs and broken toilets. The latest covenant report admits to this. A poll commissioned by SSAFA found that,

“seven out of 10 wanted to see more support given to veterans”.

It is so important that veterans are part of this.

The introduction of the Armed Forces covenant is so positive but it lacks bite. It provides excellent guidance but there is no guarantee of enforcement. Can the Minister tell us how well this is being enforced by councils around the country?

To conclude, our servicepeople are not mercenaries. They do not fight for money but to serve our country and because of appreciation. It is great that the covenant is enshrined in law, but what are the Government doing to publicise this covenant report every year? Doing so will help morale and recruitment. We can never take our services for granted. The covenant is a promise by the nation, and we must always appreciate the amazing and priceless service of our troops, and the sacrifice they make.

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