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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March 2008, 13:35 GMT
Cameron: Military covenant broken
British soldiers in Afghanistan
The military covenant is Britain's duty of care towards its armed personnel

David Cameron says the government is not meeting its duty to armed forces personnel risking lives for Britain.

The Tory leader launched a commission, headed by author Frederick Forsyth, into the "military covenant", which he says has been "well and truly broken".

It will advise him on issues affecting the armed forces like recuperation, training and families' welfare.

The government says nobody in the armed forces said the covenant was broken and it has made "significant improvements".

The Commission, which will also involve Falklands veteran Simon Weston, will look at how to ensure troops serving abroad get the right equipment, better telephone and email links with family and the best health treatment.

Military wards

At his press conference earlier, Mr Cameron said: "I believe the military covenant is well and truly broken, and I am determined that the Conservative Party will fix it."

He wounded soldiers should not be treated alongside civilians in NHS hospitals.

Everyone should know what an enormous priority the Conservative Party attaches to our Armed Forces and to keeping Britain safe
David Cameron

"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.

And he said the government had not provided the funds to meet the armed forces' ever greater responsibilities in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Waiting lists

He did not commit to a pledge to increase defence spending or scale down commitments but said decisions would follow a defence review.

But he said many improvements could be made at little expense, such as changing the practice which puts wounded soldiers at the bottom of NHS waiting lists if they are moved to a different area while awaiting treatment.

Nobody within military circles has said the military covenant is broken
Ministry of Defence

He added: "Everyone should know what an enormous priority the Conservative Party attaches to our armed forces and to keeping Britain safe, and we will always make the spending necessary to deliver that."

Last year the Royal British Legion began its own "Honour the Covenant" campaign to highlight the problems faced by troops.

And the head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, said in November the covenant was "clearly out of kilter", although he added later: "The military covenant is not broken, but more needs to be done."

'Paltry' compensation

At the launch of the commission, Simon Weston said he was very concerned about the "paltry" compensation offered to injured service personnel.

Both he and Mr Forsyth said the commission would be independent, but Mr Forsyth added he hoped to provide "feasible and affordable proposals which could become party policy".

Mr Cameron did not commit himself to adopting their recommendations, but said he hoped they would feed into his planned manifesto for armed forces families.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: "Nobody within military circles has said the military covenant is broken, including the Royal British Legion.

"That does not mean that the government cannot do better. We strive constantly to ensure the armed forces have the best possible package of care. In the past few years we have made some significant improvements."

He said more proposals to improve support to personnel and their families would be unveiled in June and they would work with representatives of the Tory commission "to see if there is anything new to add".

The government says the armed forces have had "the longest period of sustained growth in defence spending" - with an additional 7.7bn committed by 2011.

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