Exeter City Council’s Labour Armed Forces Champion Cllr Martin Pearce has welcomed new legislation to support Forces communities in Exeter. The new provisions in the Armed Forces Act 2021 covers the areas of education, housing, and healthcare.

However Cllr Martin Pearce, has said the Act has missed key elements as it does not cover areas such as service accommodation, pensions, and social care and fails to fully enshrine the Armed Forces Covenant into law.

The new Act places a legal duty on local authorities and local public bodies to have ‘due regard’ to the Covenant when supporting Force’s personnel, veterans and their families. However, Government ministers have repeatedly refused to apply this same principle to central government and forced Tory MPs to vote against a cross-party amendment to the legislation in Parliament last year. The amendment was backed by service charities such as the Royal British Legion and a range of former service chiefs in the House of Lords.

In a last-minute concession to ensure legislation passes, Government ministers promised to review central government’s responsibilities towards the Covenant and publish the review’s findings later this year.

Labour Stands with our Armed Forces
Labour Stands with our Armed Forces

Cllr Martin Pearce said:

“The new improvements in the Armed Forces Act to support Forces communities in Exeter are very welcome and from day one, I will be working with Cllr Phil Bialyk, Leader of Exeter City Council,  to ensure Force’s personnel, veterans and their families are fully supported in our area.

Yet it is disappointing that Tory ministers repeatedly refused to fully enshrine the Armed Forces Covenant into law and have instead chosen to outsource their responsibilities for delivering for Forces communities to local authorities.

Whilst some of the provisions on housing, healthcare and education are welcome, the Armed Forces Act remains a missed opportunity to deliver real improvements to the day-to-day lives of our service personnel, veterans and their families.”

Labour Presented a motion to Exeter City Council to highlight the failings and to call for action

After further months of inaction by our Conservative led government, it has become necessary to continue the fight for the rights and recognition that our Forces community deserves through other means. As a result, the following motion was proposed at Council on 13th December by Cllr Martin Pearce, and seconded by Cllr Laura Wright.

“This Council:

  • Stands firmly behind our UK Armed Forces and fully supports the aims of the Armed Forces Covenant.
  • Welcomes the new Armed Forces Act but sees the legislation as a missed opportunity to improve the lives of veterans in Exeter.
  • Notes with disappointment that the Act which makes Exeter City Council and local public bodies legally bound to have “due regard” to the Covenant when providing support to Forces communities but exempts central government from any such duty, creating a two-tier Covenant for veterans.
  • Notes with further disappointment that Labour led proposals backed by service charities and ex-Service chiefs to enshrine the Covenant fully into law but Conservative MPs voted down these plans to improve Armed Forces accommodation, employment support and pensions and to end the scandal of visa fees for the families of Commonwealth and Gurkha personnel.
  • Resolves to continue the campaign with Forces charities to see the Government strengthen the Covenant and improve vital services to veteran”

The Motion was passed by Council, sadly it did not get unanimous support. In one of the more surprising contributions of the evening the Conservative Group leader rose to speak and stated that although they supported the Armed Forces they would not support the motion. This was significantly out of step with the rest of Council, and indeed the rest of the Conservative Councillors, as the Conservative Group Leader was the only Councillor to vote against the motion.

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