Since 1688 the consent of parliament has been required for the raising and keeping of a standing army. In modern times, this means that every 5 years parliament is asked to give consent to an Armed Forces Bill, which came before us last week and, without which, there is no means to ensure service personnel obey orders.
I’ve taken a keen interest in our treatment of servicemen and women as my dad served in the British Army for 18 years, seeing armed conflict in places around the world. And, of course, we have a strong tradition of admiration and service for our armed forces within the Wantage and Didcot constituency. That tradition of service includes some of my predecessors: when the seat was Abingdon, it was of course represented by Airey Neave, who had a proud record of service in World War 2. His predecessor was Ralph Glyn, who served in World War 1 and was awarded a military cross.
When I spoke in the debate I referred to this history and reminded people we are home to key institutions such as the Defence Academy in Shrivenham and the 11 EOD & Search Regiment in Didcot. And although RAF Benson is not in my constituency, I regularly meet people when out and about who live here and are working there.
The Government used the Bill to do a number of other things than just renew consent for our forces. It updates the Service Justice System, including by creating a new Service Police Complaints Commissioner. Punishments that have been given in error will be able to be varied or rescinded quickly at a summary trial – one local veteran told me this was welcome as, particularly when they are given swiftly during operations, mistakes can be made. It allows reserves to serve on a part-time basis in the way that regular forces can. It also extends the use of posthumous pardons for abolished sexual offences, bringing at least some comfort to their descendants.
Perhaps most importantly it further enshrines the Armed Forces Covenant, the country’s promise to those who serve that they will be treated fairly, in law. There will be a duty on local authorities to have due regard for armed forces personnel in their decisions about health, education and housing – 3 areas where at the moment personnel encounter problems – to ensure they are not disadvantaged. In time this will hopefully be extended to other areas like employment too. The Bill builds on this Government’s guaranteed interview scheme, Veterans Railcard and new Office for Veterans’ Affairs. Many of the sacrifices our armed forces make are out of sight of most of us, but they should not be out of mind.