Armed Forces Covenant

Armed Forces Bill brought before Parliament

A new bill aiming to see the Armed Forces Covenant enshrined in law has been introduced to the House of Commons.

The Armed Forces Bill hopes to introduce a legal duty for relevant UK public bodies to have due regard to the principles of the Covenant - a pledge to ensure the Armed Forces community is treated fairly.

The legislation will help prevent service personnel and veterans being disadvantaged when accessing services like healthcare, education and housing, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) said.

It added it will also improve the Service Justice System for personnel wherever they are operating.

Johnny Mercer MP, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, said: "More than 6,000 businesses, charities and public organisations have already pledged to support veterans, service personnel and their families by signing the Armed Forces Covenant.

"This a fantastic feat and has changed lives up and down the country.

"Today, we are going further still to help ensure all personnel across the UK have equal access to vital services like healthcare, education and housing.

"This is no less than those who have risked their lives defending this country deserve."

Labour's John Spellar, a member of the Commons Defence Committee, criticised the approach, rather than the decision, during a virtual discussion with Mr Mercer.

"Fundamentally, ministers should be able to direct Government policy, surely that's the point of ministers coordinating this - is to get Government policy set out, rather than waiting for legislation," Mr Spellar said.

In response, Mr Mercer said the Government is legislating due to instances whereby men and women still have limited access to the improved services offered within the Covenant.

Since the launch of the Covenant in 2011, many businesses have committed to offering part-time or flexible working patterns to reservists, military spouses and partners.

A good number have also pledged to offer free training and actively recruit veterans.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the Armed Forces Bill, which is set for its second reading in the Commons on Wednesday, "builds on progress" already made.

"This will break new ground, ensuring we live up to the principles of the Covenant and treating all UK Armed Forces personnel, veterans and their families with fairness," he added.

According to the MOD, the Armed Forces Bill will focus on healthcare, housing and education, and will also increase awareness among public bodies of the unique nature of military service.

Additionally, the bill will aim to help deliver a series of improvements to the Service Justice System, such as providing clearer guidance for prosecutors on how serious crimes committed by Armed Forces personnel in the UK should be handled.

It will also see the creation of an independent body to oversee complaints, which will be run by a Service Police Complaints Commissioner.

Responding to the provisions within the Armed Forces Bill, Labour MP Stephen Morgan, Shadow Armed Forces Minister said: “The government’s focus of this Bill is that personnel, veterans and their families are treated with ‘fairness’, but the sad irony is the government would fall far short of its own tests in this Bill. 

“With reports this year of apparent inadequate accommodation and food facilities for our service personnel on the frontline of the UK COVID-19 efforts, or the news of veterans’ families being evicted from their homes after a failed private housing contract, this must now change.

“We stand firmly behind our Armed Forces and will press the government to ensure that the Covenant delivers for every member of our service personnel and their families, regardless of their circumstances.”


Cover image: Royal Navy.