6. What progress he has made on strengthening the military covenant. (904804)
The armed forces covenant is a symbol of the debt we owe to servicemen and women, veterans, and their families. As the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence reports annually to Parliament on progress in implementing the covenant.
Since the last report was published in December 2013, significant achievements include the allocation of £40 million to fund accommodation projects for veterans and the establishment of the £200 million forces Help to Buy Scheme. I am also delighted to say that the vast bulk of local authorities in Great Britain, from borough councils to county councils, have signed a community covenant, a tangible commitment to supporting our armed forces
I welcome today’s announcement of released extra investment in special forces, which will be very welcome in my constituency. The Royal British Legion and SSAFA have set up a new military charities advice service in Hereford and in Ross-on-Wye, supported by Herefordshire council. Will the Minister join me in praising the volunteers who staff that new service, and the council, which has taken a leading role in promoting the community covenant?
I am very happy to praise my hon. Friend’s council and the volunteers who do such vital work for the wider armed forces community, and I am extremely happy to praise those two very good charities, not least as we in the Ministry of Defence have for some while been encouraging charities to work more closely together—what one might in the military community call the principle of combined arms—and to see these two great charities combining forces for the benefit of the wider armed forces family is excellent, and I commend them for their efforts.
The Prime Minister has found rather a large amount of cash down the back of the Secretary of State’s sofa, with which he is now playing catch-up with the UK’s defence capabilities. But did any of the Ministers argue at any point that some of this money should be spent on armed forces housing, which remains a key priority for armed forces families, or in addressing the unfairness in the previous war widows’ pension schemes? I remind the Minister that the noble Lord Astor has estimated the cost of sorting out one of those schemes at £70,000 a year.
I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome for our equipment announcement today. The Government are committed to removing the disadvantage faced by our armed forces, and that is why we enshrined the key principles of the covenant in law. We have committed £105 million during the past four years to upholding the covenant; £30 million for the community covenant; £35 million for the LIBOR fund; and £40 million to fund a range of accommodation projects for veterans. In addition, £10 million per annum will be available in perpetuity to support the commitments for the armed forces covenant from 2015.