I was honoured to be in Lincoln Cathedral the other day to attend a Service of Commemoration marking the end of RAF combat operations in Afghanistan.
Having voted against the Iraq War, I’ve never been shy in voicing my doubts about the wisdom of many of our military operations, but there isn’t a shadow of a doubt in my mind regarding the bravery, heroism, and professionalism of those who serve our Queen and Country in the Armed Forces.
They do a magnificent job under tremendous pressures, and often do it with a smile and a laugh, without complaining.
Given their sacrifice, it’s only right that we ensure servicemen and -women are taken care of after they’ve returned to the civilian world.
Enshrining the Military Covenant in law will be remembered as one of the finest achievements of the Conservatives in government this time round.
This was not an empty symbolic pledge but was backed up with real measures.
For example, our injured soldiers now have access to the latest prosthetic medicine and technology. The Ministry of Defence announced last year that £300 million was being invested on a new world-class rehabilitation facility at Stanford Hall that will be four times the size of Hedley Court, improving our capacity to deliver the cutting-edge treatment that is already available to our wounded soldiers.
Veterans will also find help in getting the skills required to make them better suited to the workforce.
Those leaving the Armed Forces who’ve served six years or more who are heading on to college or university will be helped with the cost of tuition fees.
Work and study though we must, an Englishman’s home is his castle. 2,600 people have been helped to buy their own home through the Forces Help-to-Buy scheme. A further 1,400 are going through the process now. Serving personnel, meanwhile, will enjoy the fruits of a £1 billion investment in new accommodation, involving nearly 2,000 homes, 8,000 single rooms, and refurbishing over 1,200 homes and rooms.
Given the increased importance of reservists in the Armed Forces, I support the Secretary of State for Defence’s announcement that the MoD is looking into introducing a new post-nominal decoration for all reservists who’ve served ten years or more. This would allow those who’ve served to signpost their record after their name, just as those who’ve earned the Territorial Decoration have.
“I want to see a new reserve decoration with post-nominal letters awarded to all who have provided long-term service, regardless of rank,” Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said. “This would ensure that those who sacrifice so much to keep us safe are recognised properly.”
With 22,000 serving reservists scheduled to increase to 35,000 by 2018, this visible offering of thanks will be much appreciated.
There’s still much more I’d like to see done here, like honouring our 2% NATO commitment. But compared to the procurement disasters and £38 billion black hole in defence funding under the previous Labour government, we’ve come a very long way indeed.
Sir Edward Leigh
MP for Gainsborough