Posts Tagged ‘military covenant’

A chance to do the right thing

15/06/2011, 03:30:04 PM

by Tessa Jowell, Sadiq Khan and Jim Murphy

When the government does the right thing it is important that we support it, basing our judgement at all times on actions and not words. We are dismayed at the government’s decision, announced yesterday, to abolish the chief coroner’s office (CCO), a decision with damaging consequences for ordinary people up and down the country. We hope the government’s new-found capacity to listen will soon again be on show.

Legislation in 2009 received cross-party support in establishing a CCO, seeking to deal with some of the difficult issues that arise from complex fatalities through a system based on independent expertise. Tragically, it’s often military inquests which require such a service and this is therefore an issue close to the heart of many bereaved military families. But it’s not just families of military personnel who suddenly suffer tragedy that brings them into contact with the coronial system. Abolition of the CCO is opposed by various charities and organisations including CRY (cardiac risk in the young), which supports bereaved families who have lost loved ones suddenly through undetected cardiac problems. Sue Ainsworth, whose son Jonathan tragically died suddenly at the age of 21 last year, has joined CRY in calling for the creation of the CCO, following failings in the inquest held into Jonathan’s death. Sue said:

“Currently, the coroner is not answerable to anybody so if there’s any delays, and any inequalities in the system, you have not got any comeback at all”.

The job of a chief coroner is to ensure that families and friends of all victims are sufficiently involved in the coroner’s investigation; improve training; add quality controls and independent safeguards on inquests; and add consistency of oversight, leadership, independence and expertise to the coroners who are dealing with military inquests.

Establishing such a system is a central obligation under the military covenant, the bond between the nation, the state and the services which says that no member of the service community, including dependents, should suffer disadvantage arising from service and that special provision should at times be made to reflect their sacrifices. That is why, in government, we legislated for a coroner’s office. Scrapping it undermines the covenant which the government claim to want to uphold. Indeed, the Royal British Legion has called this act “a betrayal of bereaved armed forces families and threatens the military covenant.” (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The government’s policy on the armed forces: giving with one hand and taking with the other

23/05/2011, 12:00:33 PM

by Michael Dugher

After months of pressure from the Royal British Legion and others, including the Labour frontbench, and in the face of certain Parliamentary defeat, the government finally agreed to enshrine the “military covenant” in law.  A year ago, Cameron had personally promised to have the covenant “written into the law of the land” in a big set speech on HMS Ark Royal, only to later back track on the pledge (and then scrap the Ark Royal for good measure).  The government’s u-turn on the covenant is welcome. At a time when more is being asked of our armed forces, it is vital that we put the government’s obligations to the armed services on a proper legal footing.  Yet the announcement is, sadly, only the latest example of the government’s approach to the armed forces: giving with one hand, while taking away with the other. Labour should expose this. We also need to recognise both the achievements, as well as the limitations, of our time in office.  And we need to be at the forefront of argument that our forces and their families deserve the very highest levels of care and support.

The truth is that Labour should have taken the covenant out of party politics at the end of the last parliament. The opportunity was there to fully commit to enshrine the covenant in law, as we had already paved the way with some ground-breaking work on armed forces’ welfare. Labour was the first to deliver a cross-government strategy on the welfare of armed forces personnel. Bob Ainsworth, in particular, deserves credit for pushing through the publication of the service personnel command paper in summer 2008, when he was minister for the armed forces. This set out improved access to housing schemes and healthcare, the doubling of compensation payments for the most serious injuries, the doubling of the welfare grant for families of those on operations and free access to further education for service leavers with six years service.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Tories dragged kicking and screaming to put military covenant in law

19/05/2011, 04:00:14 PM

by Gemma Doyle

In the weekend’s media, David Cameron outlined his government’s plan to enshrine the military covenant in law. After earlier back-tracking on his pledge – made aboard HMS Ark Royal last summer – the prime minister has now been dragged kicking and screaming by Labour, working alongside the Royal British Legion, to keep his promise to our brave armed forces. We welcome this step to define and strengthen the contract between the state, the people and our armed forces, which we campaigned for. But the Tory-led government still has a long way to go to rebuild the trust of the armed forces community it has lost since taking office a year ago.

Our servicemen and women do dangerous and difficult work in conflict zones all over the globe. It places great strain on loved ones when their husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters spend many months away from home.

The most important thing we should do is ensure that our armed forces are not disadvantaged because of their service. Whether it be the housing they are eligible for, the employment opportunities open to their spouses, or the standard of their children’s education, opportunities should not be closed off to them because they have signed up to serve their country.

In recognition of this, the last Labour government delivered the first cross-government approach to forces’ welfare, which was widely welcomed by the service community. The service personnel command paper set out improved access to housing schemes and healthcare, free access to further and higher education for many service leavers, and extended travel concessions for veterans.

For a year in office the Tory-led government has seemed determined to abandon that approach.

It gave me no pleasure to hear the chairman of the forces pension society, Sir John Moore-Bick say “I have never seen a government erode the morale of the armed forces so quickly”. Yet it is not hard to understand why he did.

Before becoming secretary of state for defence last year, Liam Fox declared that the military covenant was “shattered”. He pledged that a Conservative government would rebuild it.

But the reality is that under the Tory-led government, spending is being cut faster and deeper than for a generation, and no recognition has been given to the unique nature of service life.

Thousands of servicemen and women will be made redundant, many more will see cuts to their allowances, and all will be hit disproportionately hard compared to other workers by plans to downgrade public sector pension rises. These are just some of many actions taken by the government in the last twelve months, which have completely undermined the military covenant.

This week, Liam Fox confirmed to Parliament that the principles of the military covenant will be enshrined in law. That is a positive step forward.

The covenant between the nation and our services says that the UK’s commitment to its armed forces is made in recognition that a career in the forces differs from all others. It recognises that service personnel agree to sacrifice certain civil liberties and follow orders, including placing themselves in harm’s way in the defence of others. In return, the state and the nation shall help and support people who give that service. Writing the covenant into law is a symbolic gesture of our commitment to our servicemen and women. But it is much more than that – it’s a vital measure to ensure that government and public bodies are forced to meet their responsibilities to our armed forces.

Unfortunately, while welcome, the government’s action is belated. It has come only as a consequence of fear of a defeat in Parliament and in the face of huge anger from forces families, after David Cameron reneged on his HMS Ark Royal pledge. After making that pledge, his government refused to include proposals to write the covenant in law through the armed forces bill, and he ordered his MPs to vote against Labour amendments which would have done so.

Nonetheless, it is welcome that the principles of the rights that our forces heroes can expect in return for their service will now be protected by law. But this announcement does not change all that has gone before. The Tory-led government needs to review wholesale its approach to the armed forces, which has led to a meltdown in morale. And the military community will rightly ask why it has taken twelve months of discussion and a double u-turn from the government to have the decency to honour their promise.

Looking to the future, Labour’s shadow defence team, led by Jim Murphy, is conducting a full review of our policy. In this process, I am reviewing our approach to the welfare of service personnel, forces families and veterans, and to strengthening the military covenant.

This review will be guided by meeting the needs of the armed forces community. The outcomes will be determined only after detailed consultation with forces charities, families, and our soldiers, sailors and airmen themselves. It will not be a rushed, cost-cutting exercise like the government’s strategic defence and security review.

Labour campaigned for and welcomes the move to put the military covenant on a legal footing. But in spite of this, since taking office, the Tory-led government’s actions have undermined the relationship between the state and our armed forces. We want to rebuild this relationship and strengthen the covenant. Our armed forces deserve nothing less for the sacrifices they are prepared to make on our behalf.

Gemma Doyle is Labour MP for West Dunbartonshire and a shadow defence minister.

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Saturday News Review

14/05/2011, 06:17:06 AM

Covenant will be law

David Cameron will unveil the move next week in an attempt to defuse anger over the treatment of Britain’s soldiers, sailors and airmen – particularly when they retire or return from service abroad. It had been feared that the Prime Minister was backing away from a pledge to give the Armed Forces “a new military covenant that’s written into the law of the land”. However, a defence minister told The Daily Telegraph that the Government’s plans, to be announced in the House of Commons on Monday, would put the covenant “on a statutory basis for the first time”. Military chiefs are said to be unhappy about recommendations made by Lord Hutton of Furness’s independent report on public sector pensions that would end final-salary payouts for the Armed Forces and raise their retirement age. Mr Cameron’s original promise to put the agreement on a legal footing was supposed to be fulfilled by the Armed Forces Bill, which is passing through Parliament. Whitehall lawyers warned ministers that making legal promises to provide certain public services could expose the Government and the Armed Forces to lawsuits. – Daily Telegraph

‘Greenest Government ever’, you must be kidding

Exactly a year on from David Cameron’s pledge to make the newly elected coalition the “greenest government ever”, 15 charities will today warn the Prime Minister that, without stronger leadership, his promise will be left “in tatters”. Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Christian Aid, WWF and Greenpeace are among the signatories of the letter, which accuses the government of “losing its way” with environmental policy after initially highighting the green agenda as a central plank of coalition policy. The letter praises the government for delivering the Renewable Heat Incentive, introducing plans for a Green Investment Bank, and signing up to the international biodiversity deal agreed at the Nagoya summit last year. But the group warns of “perceived uncertainty about the direction of UK policy” over the past year, which it blames for the UK’s plummeting from third to 13th in the international league table of attractiveness to clean energy investors. – Business Green

Is it really a year since David Cameron, newly ensconced as prime minister, assured us that the coalition would be the “greenest government ever”? It’s an anniversary worth remembering, if only to consider how, in environmental terms, Cameron’s government seems stuck in reverse. But cast your mind back further to 2006, when Cameron took a trip to the Norwegian Arctic to pose with huskies and become personally acquainted with the effects of climate change. At the time, he said “since becoming leader of the Conservative Party, I have sought to push the environment up to the top of the political agenda.” Vote blue, go green was the message. So with the help of our own cheeky version of Mr Cameron and a team of eager huskies stationed outside the Houses of Parliament, we want to make sure the prime minister and his government don’t make a mockery of commitments made in opposition and in government. Because on recent evidence – and even with the traditionally greener leanings of the Lib Dems – I’d say we’re a long way off having the greenest government ever. –

Missed target after missed target

The Coalition has missed dozens of key targets during its first year in power, official documents revealed yesterday. Updated ‘business plans’ released by the Government show that 87 major ‘milestones’ have been missed across Whitehall in the five months since the plans were first published. Documents show that welfare chiefs have been forced to abandon plans to automate the processing of all benefit claims, after deciding it was ‘not possible’.  The ambitious proposal was included among publicly stated goals in the Department for Work and Pensions’ business plan for completion by October next year. But in the latest update, officials admit it has already proved impossible and massively watered down the project. It will instead deal with 75 per cent of claims for just one type of benefit. The documents also confirm that the commission investigating the creation of a British Bill of Rights will not report until the end of next year – a whole year later than originally hoped. – Daily Mail

While other Whitehall departments have published details of their intentions for the next four years, the Department of Health said yesterday it would not release any information until its “listening exercise” on the controversial shake-up is complete. The move comes as Health Secretary Andrew Lansley struggles to defend the reforms, which include putting GPs in charge of commissioning services. Across the board government departments have missed dozens of their own key targets leaving the business, environment and “big society” projects months behind schedule. In total, 87 “milestones” have been missed, forcing ministers to rewrite the deadlines to give themselves extra time. But it is problems in the Department of Health which continue to provide the biggest headache for ministers. – the Independent

Government wine cellar avoids the cuts

The lavish £2million wine cellar owned by the government has been spared from the Chancellor’s cuts. There are 39,000 bottles in the store, including a 1961 Chateau Latour, which sells for up to £10,000 a time. Both Tory and Lib Dem MPs were critical of the stock before they took power. But it emerged yesterday the bulk will be kept, despite George Osborne’s claims that every penny is needed to pay off the deficit. Some of the most ­expensive vintages are to be sold off and the proceeds used to pay for what the Foreign Office refers to as reception wine. Old Etonian Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham insisted the Government needs fine wine for entertaining visiting dignitaries. Mr Bellingham said: “If we sold the cellar, we’d have to go out and buy wine and that would be much more costly. The purchase of wine is going to be self-financing.”- Daily Mirror

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon