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David Cameron: It's time to fix the Military Covenant

Launching the Military Covenant Commission David Cameron said:

"I want to begin by sending out my condolences to the family of Sgt. Duane Barwood who was killed in Basra on Friday.

He was from my constituency and he died serving his country. His death serves as a reminder of the incredible dangers our troops still face in that country.

The same is true in Afghanistan. Just a few days ago, we all found out that Prince Harry had been serving a tour of duty in that country. He really is a courageous young man. But he's just one of many young men and women who are quietly getting on with the job in the harshest of conditions. I've been out there to visit them twice and it cannot be said enough: our troops are the best in the world.

Their professionalism is nothing short of extraordinary. Their bravery in the face of real and serious danger is awe-inspiring. And their sense of duty - to serve and protect their country come what may - puts the rest of us to shame.

Military Covenant

It is in this context that today, I want to talk about something I feel incredibly strongly about. It's the agreement which lays out the sacrifices - including the ultimate sacrifice - that we expect our troops to make on our behalf, and our duties and obligations towards them. It's the Military Covenant and I believe this Government has broken it.

If you sit in the back of a Hercules at Kandahar air base as I have done, you will realise that our soldiers don't ask for much.

More contact time with home via telephone and e-mail. And leave that starts the moment you step foot on British soil rather than when you actually leave the middle of Afghanistan.

Any government that values our armed forces and respects the military covenant shouldn't sit on it hands and say there's nothing we can do it should roll up sleeves and work day and night to make sure they happen. There are, of course, bigger examples of how this Government has failed our military. We're fighting a major counter-insurgency operation in Afghanistan.

Yet defence spending is at it lowest levels since the 1930s our troops are around 5,500 under strength and they are regularly sent into action without necessary equipment like night vision goggles and armoured vehicles. All this, at a time when the MoD is spending over £2 billion on refurbishing its Whitehall Headquarters.

We have to spend our money more wisely and get more of it to the frontline.

But the Military Covenant isn't just about our responsibilities and obligations to our troops on the frontline. It's about our responsibilities and obligations to them back in Britain too.

When our soldiers are wounded they want to come home to a great British hospital - and in Birmingham Selly Oak they do. But when they are injured on Monday they don't want to end up in a public ward by Wednesday.

They want to recuperate next to their comrades and that must mean having genuinely separate military wards. And our responsibilities to them back home must also mean looking at the families of our armed forces. RAF Brize Norton is in my constituency and I have heard first hand the concerns and worries of our service families.

Take the NHS.

If you're the wife of a serving soldier and need a knee replacement, when your husband gets posted to another part of the country you go to the bottom of the waiting list at your new trust. How can this be fair?

The little things like telephone calls home. The bigger things like having the right equipment. The important things like your family being looked after and cared for. Taken together, this Government stands accused of deserting its duty towards the Armed Forces.

Society

But let's also be honest. The Military Covenant has not just been broken by the Government. It's been broken by society too - by all of us. How many of us can say that we've kept our side of the bargain?

I think of the ugly incident where a petrol station in Surrey refused to serve a soldier because he was wearing his uniform.

I think of the businesses - the mobile phone companies - who could be doing a lot more to provide cheaper services to deployed personnel. And I think of the schools who could teach our kids about what our armed forces do - and especially, what they do for us.

The Commission

I believe the Military Covenant is well and truly broken. And I am determined that the Conservative Party will fix it. That's why I can also announce today that I have set up a Military Covenant Commission.

This Commission will look at how the Government and Society can better fulfil our obligations under the Military Covenant. It will look at all the issues that affect our armed forces - from training and recuperation, the welfare of their families and their wider relationship with society.

I have appointed Frederick Forsyth to chair this Commission. Apart from being a great writer, Freddie has served in the RAF as a National Serviceman and feels passionately about this issue.

He'll be joined by an impressive list of experts and ex-forces people. This includes Simon Weston who served in the Falklands War and the distinguished military historian and journalist Sir John Keegan.

The Commission will consult widely and will invite key service charities and other interested organisations to contribute. But I also want the Commission to have a wider discussion with the public - not least our soldiers on the frontline.

That's why there is a website - www.militarycovenantcommission.com - where anyone can post their views and let the Commission know what can be done to mend, and indeed enhance the Military Covenant. I am very grateful to Freddie and his Commissioners for undertaking this important work and I look forward to their findings."

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