Ex-chiefs welcome military covenant 'law'

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

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.

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."

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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