Conservatives hit out at “broken” military covenant

David Cameron has accused the government of breaking the military covenant.

The Conservative leader said he ashamed of the way the forces are treated and said service families were expected to put up with conditions that would be “simply unacceptable in civilian life”.

He was speaking as the Conservatives launched their own review of the military covenant, which Mr Cameron insisted had been “well and truly broken”.

Author Frederick Forsyth and Falklands veteran Simon Weston will lead the commission, which will look at issues including recuperation, training and families’ welfare, as well as troops access to equipment and email and telephone facilities.

Mr Forsythe said the commission would be independent and the Tory leader has not committed to accepting any of its conclusions as Tory policy.

Speaking in London, Mr Cameron said he was “ashamed that we as a country can ask so much but give so little”.

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

“More contact time with home via telephone and email. 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 its hands and say, ‘there’s nothing we can do’. It should roll up its sleeves and work day and night to make sure they happen.”

Mr Cameron criticised the practice of treating military personnel at NHS hospitals, which ministers argue means they have access to the best treatment, arguing they should be allowed to recuperate with fellow servicemen and women.

“When they are injured on Monday they don’t want to end up on a public ward by Wednesday. They want to recuperate next to their comrades and that must mean having genuinely separate military wards,” he said.

Mr Cameron also said he was concerned with the way serving personnel are treated by the general public, including “sensitivities” that people may be offended by the sight of serving personnel.

He accused the government of underfunding the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, but did not make any firm commitments to increasing defence spending or rolling back commitments.

The Conservatives’ intervention follows a campaign by the Royal British Legion last year to protect the military covenant.

In November General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the army, said the covenant had not be broken, “but more needs to be done”.