General election 2019: Labour and Tories make Armistice Day vows to forces

Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson at the CenotaphImage copyright

The Conservatives and Labour parties will mark Armistice Day with pledges to improve the lives of UK service personnel and their families.

The Tories say they would change the law to protect veterans from “vexatious” legal action, if they win 12 December’s general election.

They are also promising extra childcare for military families and a new railcard for veterans.

Labour is promising improved support for forces children and better wages.

And the Liberal Democrats want to waive leave to remain fees for armed forces personnel who were born outside the UK.

In other election developments:

It is the first time since 1923 that Armistice Day – commemorating the end of World War One – has fallen during a general election campaign.

Speaking ahead of a trip to the Midlands to meet forces personnel, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “As we remember the ultimate sacrifice made by our brave men and women for their country just over a century ago, it is right that we renew our commitment to the soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and veterans of today.”

Mr Johnson has pledged to change the law to protect forces veterans from “vexatious” legal action, if the Conservatives win a majority at the election.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “After a decade of government cuts and outsourcing, Labour offers our armed forces real change with the pay, conditions and respect they deserve.”

Human Rights Act

Mr Johnson said the party will introduce legislation to ensure the Law of Armed Conflict has primacy and that peacetime laws are not applied to service personnel on military operations.

Under the proposals, the Tories would amend the Human Rights Act so it does not apply to issues – including deaths during the Troubles in Northern Ireland – that took place before it came into force in 2000.

The pledge comes as six former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles are facing prosecution.

The cases relate to the killings of two people on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in January 1972; as well as the deaths in separate incidents of Daniel Hegarty, John Pat Cunningham; Joe McCann and Aidan McAnespie. Not all of the charges are for murder.

The Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland has said that of 26 so-called Troubles legacy cases it has taken decisions on since 2011, 13 related to republicans, eight to loyalists, and five are connected to the Army.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme any changes would not affect current criminal prosecutions brought against service personnel, but in future, those who wanted to pursue complaints against the forces would have to go to the European Court of Human Rights rather than UK courts.

“At the moment, because of the Human Rights Act, people can go via our courts and use our systems to constantly reopen this and we don’t think that is right or fair,” he said.

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Conservative plans to exempt British troops from human rights laws during combat were first announced in 2016 by Mr Johnson’s predecessor as prime minister, Theresa May, but they have yet to be put into law.

The Conservatives are also promising to extend the school day for forces children aged 4 to 11, with “breakfast clubs” and “after-school clubs” to help working parents and promote the recruitment and retention of women in the services.

Military veterans will also be guaranteed a job interview for any public sector role they apply for – and there will be a potential tax cut for businesses that employ veterans, under Tory plans.

And the party has announced plans for a new Veterans’ Railcard, allowing 700,000 veterans and their families who are not entitled to other discounted rail schemes – such as Senior Railcard or the Disabled Person’s Railcard – a third off rail fares.

‘Decent housing’

A HM Forces Railcard can already be bought by serving personnel for £21 a year.

Labour, meanwhile, is restating pledges it made in June for Armed Forces Day to improve support for forces children with better access to schools and dedicated local authority admissions strategies to help with frequent school moves.

The party says its plan to scrap the public sector pay cap will boost the income of the lowest paid members of the forces.

According to Labour analysis, the starting salary of a private is £1,159 lower in real terms than in 2010.

Armed forces pay was frozen to an increase of 1% between 2013 and 2017 by Conservative-led governments. The independent Armed Forces Pay Review Board recommended a 2.9% rise for 2018/19, which the government chose to implement as a 2% increase with a 0.9% one-off payment.

Labour is also promising to provide “decent housing” for forces personnel and their families by ending the reliance on the private rented sector.

‘Hostile environment’

It will also consult on creating a representative body to give a voice for service men and women, and end privatisation – with a review of outsourcing contracts.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said it was time to pay service personnel a “proper wage”, adding: “We ask them to make the ultimate sacrifice. The least we can do is offer them decent pay.”

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are going to make sure that our armed forces are looked after properly because we don’t think that they have been until now.

“And on a day a like today, I think it is very important to emphasise the priority that we will be giving to our Armed Forces, our veterans and their families.”

The Lib Dems said leave to remain fees – the payment made when someone born outside the UK wants to stay in the country – had been “increased to exorbitant levels” and “prevented many brave veterans from taking up their right to settle in the UK with their families”.

The cost is currently £2,389 per person, and the party has pledged to scrap that for veterans going forward.

The Lib Dem’s defence spokesman, Jamie Stone, said: “These men and women risk their lives in the service of our country, and the fact they are treated this way by the Conservative Party is yet another horrible example of the hostile environment.

“A Liberal Democrat government will waive the outrageous application fees for members of the armed forces on discharge and their families.”

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