The Labour Party has and will always be a party of defence. The post-war Atlee Government was instrumental in the creation of the NATO Alliance. Jim Callaghan was in the Royal Navy before he was Prime Minister and Dennis Healey served in the Army before he served as Chancellor. Defence and the honour of Service have been part of our history as they will our future.
Labour is proud of its defence record in government, but we know we didn’t get everything right. We made huge advances on kit and equipment and hugely improved forces’ welfare. We invested in new threats and introduced the first National Security Strategy.
We know we should have gone further on procurement reform, on building effective European alliances, and we should gone further to take some defence issues out of the cut and thrust of party politics.
Our commitment to defence is unshakable and remains in Opposition: national security and the protection of citizens is the first duty of any government and any party with aspirations to govern. We will work constructively with the Government where possible and hold them to account where necessary.
Support for our Forces on the frontline
The Government has cut allowances, including for those on the frontline. They will cut allowances by £300m each year until 2014/15.
It is vital that savings are made, but our absolute priority will be our Forces fighting on the frontline away from their families. They fight in our name for our national security. Labour will seek to improve the support for the men and women on the frontline.
The Government has permanently cut pensions for injured soldiers and war widows. Figures from the Forces Pension Society shows that a war widow will lose £750,000 over the course of her life. A 28-year old double amputee corporal will lose almost £600,000 over the course of his life.
The sacrifices service personnel make for the country and the unique nature of military service mean they should not be treated as other public sector workers and deserved special recognition. They are often separated from family and loved ones for many months at a time and work in extremely dangerous situations. They forego several political freedoms and contractual rights that they might enjoy in other occupations.
The impact of these measures will be felt long after the deficit has been paid down and the economy has returned to growth. Labour would examine whether a time-limited measure could be a fairer approach.
Supporting service children
At present the child of a service man or woman receives a ‘service premium’ which will be £250 per year from next year. However, if a parent dies while a child is in receipt of this that funding ceases at the end of the school year because the child is no longer considered a ‘service child’.
Orphaned service children should not lose this vital support when they lose a parent in the service of our country, which will be one of the most traumatic periods of their life.
Labour is urging the Government to continue vital support for the children of those killed in action by using the significant £150m underspend in the pupil premium budget to fund longer-term support for service children.
The Government has said it will take ‘urgent’ action on this matter but has yet to do anything. We must hold them to account to ensure the change is made.
Supporting veterans’ health
Combat Stress say that a significant minority of Service men and women suffer from mental ill-health as a result of their experiences on the frontline. Research suggests that of the 191,000 personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 7,600 people (4%) could develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Another 37,600 people (19.7%) may be battling other debilitating mental health problems, such as depression, mood disorders and anxiety.
Labour is calling on the Government to introduce a £1m research fund for veterans’ ‘legacy issues’ from Afghanistan and Iraq, with a particular focus on mental health. Charities would be able to bid for the funds to support long-term policy research in this area. This would be funded by rebalancing our Services. Our Forces are ‘top heavy’, with too many personnel in the most senior ranks. The Government says they are cutting the top “in broad proportion” to cuts to personnel throughout the Forces which will perpetuate rather than tackle the imbalance. We believe they should go further at the top which will save money and correct the imbalance.
The Government has decided to stop carrying out major improvements to service accommodation for three years from April 2013, a cut of £141m. Even with the £100m announced in the budget for service accommodation this amounts to a net cut of £41m and it has been reported that this move could end up costing the Ministry of Defence more over a over a 25-year period.
If the Government fails to provide sufficient support for forces’ accommodation people will consider that they do not understand the difficulties of military life, including the need to move and re-home in new communities. People will fear Ministers are not honouring the Military Covenant.
Supporting the Military Covenant
Labour recognises that the stresses and strains that military service places on the whole service community are unique.
Therefore, last year Labour supported the Royal British Legion’s campaign to enshrine the Military Covenant in law. The campaign was successful and the principles of the Military Covenant – that no-one should be disadvantages as a result of service – are for the first time on the statute book to make them legally binding. The covenant sets in stone the standards by which defence policy must be judged so that they common bond of identity, loyalty and responsibility we all have with those who serve will never be broken or sidestepped.
Supporting the British defence industry
In January it was announced that the Indian Government gave preference to the French firm Dassault to supply India with jet fighters, over the BAE Systems Typhoon jet. BAE Systems had been hoping to partly assemble 126 Eurofighter Typhoon jets at Warton and Samlesbury in Lancashire for the Indian air force.
In February it was announced that the Ministry of Defence turned down a bid to design and build the MARS tankers which would have led to a greater proportion of work-share for the UK. The MoD instead ordered the £452M deal for four new vessels to support the Royal Navy on operations around the world to the South Korean firm Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME).
Labour wants to see more of our defence industry with a ‘made in Britain’ stamp on it, supporting jobs and growth in Britain. The UK defence industry is vital for the UK economy and deserves real support from the UK Government. High skilled jobs and apprenticeships are in some areas central to local communities. The country will want the Government to do more to support British industry.
Government’s defence review
The Government’s rushed defence review made mistakes. Britain has no aircraft to fly from aircraft carriers. The defence review is making mass redundancies, with 30,000 sackings by 2020. As global uncertainty grows daily threats are becoming harder to tackle and yet Britain is subject to strategic shrinkage by stealth.
Labour has launched our own Shadow Defence Review to look at the security challenges we face. In a new and changing security environment we must work closer with our allies, combine defence and international development policy and prepare for the threats of the future.