Election 2019

General election 2019: Labour and Tories make Armistice Day vows to forces

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Media captionArmed forces personnel deserve "a proper wage" - Thornberry

The Conservatives and Labour parties will mark Armistice Day with pledges to improve the lives of UK service personnel and their families.

The Tories say they would change the law to protect veterans from "vexatious" legal action, if they win 12 December's general election.

They are also promising extra childcare for military families and a new railcard for veterans.

Labour is promising improved support for forces children and better wages.

And the Liberal Democrats want to waive leave to remain fees for armed forces personnel who were born outside the UK.

In other election developments:

It is the first time since 1923 that Armistice Day - commemorating the end of World War One - has fallen during a general election campaign.

Speaking ahead of a trip to the Midlands to meet forces personnel, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "As we remember the ultimate sacrifice made by our brave men and women for their country just over a century ago, it is right that we renew our commitment to the soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and veterans of today."

Mr Johnson has pledged to change the law to protect forces veterans from "vexatious" legal action, if the Conservatives win a majority at the election.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "After a decade of government cuts and outsourcing, Labour offers our armed forces real change with the pay, conditions and respect they deserve."

Human Rights Act

Mr Johnson said the party will introduce legislation to ensure the Law of Armed Conflict has primacy and that peacetime laws are not applied to service personnel on military operations.

Under the proposals, the Tories would amend the Human Rights Act so it does not apply to issues - including deaths during the Troubles in Northern Ireland - that took place before it came into force in 2000.

The pledge comes as six former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles are facing prosecution.

The cases relate to the killings of two people on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in January 1972; as well as the deaths in separate incidents of Daniel Hegarty, John Pat Cunningham; Joe McCann and Aidan McAnespie. Not all of the charges are for murder.

The Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland has said that of 32 so-called Troubles legacy cases it has taken decisions on since 2011, 17 related to republicans, eight to loyalists, and five are connected to the Army.

Image caption Boris Johnson met veterans on Monday during a visit to Wolverhampton

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told BBC Radio 4's Today programme any changes would not affect current criminal prosecutions brought against service personnel, but in future, those who wanted to pursue complaints against the forces would have to go to the European Court of Human Rights rather than UK courts.

"At the moment, because of the Human Rights Act, people can go via our courts and use our systems to constantly reopen this and we don't think that is right or fair," he said.

But members of both the Ulster Unionist Party and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland have criticised the pledge.

The UUP's Doug Beattie - a retired Army captain - said it would allow for "terrorists... to get away scot-free", while Sinn Féin's Linda Dillon said it was "unacceptable" to give soldiers, past and present, "immunity".

Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney also said the proposal was "very concerning", tweeting: "The law must apply to all, without exception, to achieve reconciliation."

Image copyright PA Media

Conservative plans to exempt British troops from human rights laws during combat were first announced in 2016 by Mr Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, but they have yet to be put into law.

The Tories are also promising to extend the school day for forces children aged 4 to 11, and a guaranteed job interview for any public sector role veterans apply for.

The party has also announced plans for a new Veterans' Railcard offering a third off rail fares. A HM Forces Railcard can already be bought by serving personnel for £21 a year.

This isn't the first time the Conservatives have promised to end what they've called "vexatious legal claims and prosecutions against British soldiers accused of wrongdoing on the battlefield" - such as allegations of abuse or unlawful killing.

The past four Tory defence secretaries have all pledged to introduce legislation to protect serving personnel and veterans, but have so far failed to deliver.

The thorniest issue has been what to do with killings and deaths that took place during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The Tories now believe they might have a solution by amending the Human Rights Act so it does not apply to incidents before 2000.

But recent history has shown any change will be easier said than done.

Labour, meanwhile, is restating pledges it made in June for Armed Forces Day to improve support for forces children with better access to schools and dedicated local authority admissions strategies to help with frequent school moves.

The party says its plan to scrap the public sector pay cap will boost the income of the lowest paid members of the forces.

According to Labour analysis, the starting salary of a private is £1,159 lower in real terms than in 2010.

Armed forces pay was frozen to an increase of 1% between 2013 and 2017 by Conservative-led governments. The independent Armed Forces Pay Review Board recommended a 2.9% rise for 2018/19, which the government chose to implement as a 2% increase with a 0.9% one-off payment.

Labour is also promising to provide "decent housing" for forces personnel and their families by ending the reliance on the private rented sector.

Image caption Jeremy Corbyn took part in the silence in his Islington constituency

Labour's shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said it was time to pay service personnel a "proper wage", adding: "We ask them to make the ultimate sacrifice. The least we can do is offer them decent pay."

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are going to make sure that our armed forces are looked after properly because we don't think that they have been until now.

"And on a day a like today, I think it is very important to emphasise the priority that we will be giving to our Armed Forces, our veterans and their families."

Jeremy Corbyn has been talking about the starting pay for an army private, which has fallen after taking account of rising prices since 2010.

That's the salary you get after you've been assigned to a unit and completed training.

Starting salary for an army private

£ per year (after training)

Source: Armed Forces Pay Review Body

Mr Corbyn was using figures calculated before the government introduced a larger-than-usual increase in April 2019.

The starting salary in 2010 was £17,015, which in 2019 money would be £20,650. The starting salary since April has been £20,000, so it has clearly fallen in real terms, but not by the £1,200 he cited.

The Lib Dems said leave to remain fees - the payment made when someone born outside the UK wants to stay in the country - had been "increased to exorbitant levels" and "prevented many brave veterans from taking up their right to settle in the UK with their families".

The cost is currently £2,389 per person, and the party has pledged to scrap that for veterans.

The Lib Dem's defence spokesman, Jamie Stone, said: "These men and women risk their lives in the service of our country, and the fact they are treated this way by the Conservative Party is yet another horrible example of the hostile environment.

"A Liberal Democrat government will waive the outrageous application fees for members of the armed forces on discharge and their families."