Ex-chiefs welcome military covenant 'law'


Lord Dannatt: "There's a little bit of a danger, that just putting it in law, the government could think this is job done"

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Two former Army chiefs have welcomed indications the government is to enshrine the military covenant in law.

Defence Minister Andrew Robathan has hinted there could be legal changes to ensure that soldiers and their families are rewarded for their sacrifices.

Col Richard Kemp, who led UK troops in Afghanistan, called it a "huge morale boost", while General Lord Dannatt called it "a positive move".

It is unclear if a statement on Monday will include specific pledges.

The current military covenant - which promises a duty of care to the Armed Forces - states soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice - and that they and their families should expect fair treatment and to be valued, respected and properly rewarded.

But it is not itself legally binding and charities representing the Armed Forces have raised concerns over the treatment of some service personnel when they retire or return from active service overseas.

The Armed Forces Bill had previously only proposed introducing an annual report on how the covenant was being honoured.


David Cameron wants to live up to his pledge to enshrine the military convenant in law.

The problem the government is facing is how far to go when it comes to the law.

If the Armed Forces Bill is passed into law it would give MPs the opportunity to review the covenant annually, but it doesn't detail or codify the covenant itself.

The Defence Minister Andrew Robathan has come out with this intriging phrase "statutory basis".

The covenant itself could be acknowledged and recognised in law. But it's unclear if there will be details.

The Ministry of Defence and Downing Street are trying to find a way of recognising the covenant in law.

But not detail it in such a way that it would lead to legal challenges from soldiers, airmen or sailors who feel they haven't been given what they were promised.

The military covenant only officially applies to the Army, but its core principles are taken to extend to the air force and navy.

'Fair deal'

Lord Dannatt, former chief of the general staff - the highest position in the Army - called the decision "a positive move for the government", but he warned "there's a little bit of a danger, that just putting it in law, the government could think this is job done".

"The really important thing is that the things are provided, good accommodation, fair levels of pay, fair medical support for our troops and good equipment," he said.

"It will be easier in future if we thought things had got out of kilter, out of balance, to be able to say to government of the day, by law you are required to give us a fair deal."

Col Kemp gave the move a cautious welcome, but added it was "important" to bear in mind what the detail would be.

"Is it just going to be symbolic gesture which says 'yes, we are proud of and we support our service people', or are there going to be hard commitments which will enable soldiers to get the treatment that they really do deserve," he added.

"Particularly wounded soldiers, particularly families of service people who often move around, unpredictably and not at their own will."

What is the military covenant?

  • Britain's duty of care to its armed forces began as an unspoken pact between society and the military, possibly as far back as Henry VIII's reign
  • The pact, reinforced by custom and convention, was formally codified as a "covenant" in 2000 but not made law
  • It states soldiers will be called upon to make sacrifices - including the ultimate sacrifice. In return, they and their families can expect fair treatment and to be sustained and rewarded
  • The covenant only officially applies to the army, but its core principles are taken to extend to the air force and navy

Simon Brown, a former corporal, was invalided out of the Army after suffering serious injuries when he was shot in the face by a sniper in Iraq in 2006.

He said there were several areas where people who have had to leave the Armed Forces could be treated better.

"The biggest fear at the moment is things like housing, because obviously we're leaving military accommodation and then we've got to find housing in an area that we'd be comfortable for our families to grow up," he said.

"And the other thing is medical treatment, not just the physical but the mental.

"There are a lot of guys who have got serious psychological issues from the things they've done and seen and there's a fear that we can't get the treatment for that".

Labour's shadow defence secretary, Jim Murphy, said the prime minister "appears to have finally done the right thing".

"I hope this marks the beginnings of a real reassessment of how the government is treating our armed forces," he added.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    I find it disgusting that individuals are suggesting that military personnel shouldn't be entitled to special benefits because "Its a job". Its a job where you're literally on the firing line each day, aware of the chances of death, or a life of disability. Its a job where loved ones are in as much of a war as they are, fighting anxiousness or sadness each and every day. Its no ordinary job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Good. People can moan about it all they like; but our country asks them to risk their lives, to protect our interests. It's not the same as any other job, where the 'health and safety at work act' applies. Fair play to the government for doing the right thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Military service is a career choice like nursing, policing, teaching or maintaining deep sea oil wells. Each job has risks. All are free choices but not all pay for their pensions. Most service personnel survive the 22 years to draw a full pension but make no contributions to it. The service pension bill to the tax payer [compensation payments not included], is £3.6 billion a year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    The Military Covenant is 400yrs old it applies to the Army only but is spread as a TRI SERVICE doctrine, this Government faced backlash over its U-turn on its promises and now we see them U-Turn again, dont sent thousands of troops to the dole queues retain them and respect them, those against the Military and the Covenant would do to remember past sacrifices of the Armed Forces in conflicts

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I am an army wife,and I can assure you,I recieve no better healthcare than you.I pay for my dentist and my perscriptions,and I get to wait just as long as the rest of you. And yes,our children do have an advantage when it comes to subsidised boarding schools, but that is justified by the child NEEDING stability, and when you have moved (as my neice had)11 times in 7 years its vital!!


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