This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.

21 September 2009

Military Covenant

We all expect that those who are prepared to die for their country are looked after – during their time at the front and after their service is completed. 

There is no excuse for anything other than the best equipment for those on the front line and a long-term commitment to their welfare if injured or for support to the families who have loved ones, but to often, this simply does not happen.

I am standing down as an MP at the next election but in my time as an MP I have seen our armed forces stretched almost to breaking point with the huge demands that parliament has asked of them.

There are things I will certainly miss about being an MP, but I will not miss the roll-call of the dead at 12.00 on Wednesdays, when the Prime Minister reads the names of another young man or woman who have been killed that week in Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Of course, when soldiers sign up for the army they know the risks and they make the decision that they are prepared to put their life on the line for their country. They know that they might die in the course of carrying out their duties. In return they should be certain that they and their family will be properly looked after and that they will be able to return to civilian life with suitable training that will give them a decent job.

Some years ago, I met up with a young ex-soldier in a homeless shelter. He was unemployed and all his possessions were in one bag. That was in the USA, we must do better than that here.

The fact that we even need to have a debate on this issue is a scandal in itself. We must now review our entire approach to military spending. Trident, and other expensive Cold War weapons of the past should be off the agenda. In their place should be the basic nuts and bolts and boots of modern defence.

Conference, I know that politicians are supposed to say that we have the best armed forces in the world, but I can’t help thinking that the world’s best army would do a better job of looking after its servicemen and women and their families.

I find it difficult to believe that the world’s best army would force soldiers to prove that their injury was sustained during combat without providing legal council? Would the world’s best army really allow the families of servicemen to live in housing that fails building inspections, or where water is undrinkable because of drowned rats in holding cisterns?

Our approach to military spending should be not just about helicopters, but healthcare too. It should be about, employment prospects, counselling and rehabilitation. As the motion is right to point out, it is our soldiers that are our military’s biggest asset – we need to do a far better job of looking after them. 

Soldiers accept that they will be operating in difficult conditions, but we need to make sure that this does not apply to their families at home.

To deliver this we need to reaffirm the military Covenant, to take a fresh look at defence spending priorities and to be bold about where are priorities ought to be. 

When young British men and women who have left the military are up to three times more likely to kill themselves than people in the general population, when an ex-soldier is more likely to be homeless or unemployed – we know something has gone badly wrong. That we should put right immediately.

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This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.