Opposition Day — [11th Allotted Day]
Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire, Labour)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The military covenant should not be whatever the Government of the day determine it to be. It should not be at the whim of Ministers to decide in a report what is and is not in the covenant. My hon. Friend makes a very important point.
The Government say that it is not necessary to detail the military covenant, in principle, in law, because they are already taking action. They mention the covenant in the report and it was mentioned in the Armed Forces Bill Committee. All those involved in the debate today-except, perhaps, for you, Mr Deputy Speaker, because you are free from involvement in these debates-will have received an e-mail from the Royal British Legion, which stated:
"As the nation's guardian of the Military Covenant, we would be very grateful if you could urge the Government to honour the Prime Minister's welcome commitment last June to enshrine the Military Covenant in law. We do not understand why the Government is now claiming that the commitment to produce an 'Armed Forces Covenant Report' is somehow the same thing as enshrining the Military Covenant in law. It is not the same thing at all."
I urge hon. Members from both Government parties to listen to the legion's voice and vote for the motion today.
The military covenant cannot be whatever Government Ministers of the day deign it to be. It should be defined in law so that it is removed from the cut and thrust of party politics. If the Secretary of State is true to his word, which I believe him to be, he should meaningfully define the covenant in law. What is needed is specific legislation to put the definition of the covenant on a legal footing. In the words of Chris Simpkins, the director general of the Royal British Legion:
"To suggest an annual covenant report would be as effective as a piece of legislation is nonsense and would be evidence of the Government doing a U-turn on their explicit promises."