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Speech

Fox: A new Community Covenant scheme for the armed forces

Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox , Wednesday, October 5 2011

Liam Fox

On the night of August 6th, and for three further nights, the behaviour of a mindless violent minority brought shame to the streets of Britain. These criminals made headlines around the globe.

But over the very same period our soldiers and marines in Afghanistan - many the same ages as the rioters - bravely sustained and defeated 62 enemy attacks.

On those same nights in Libya, RAF jets flew 81 sorties in support of operations in Libya including a strike on command bunkers deep in the Libyan desert.

And as on every night the Royal Navy continued to patrol the seas around the world, the RAF protected our airspace and our deterrent submarines provided continuous protection against any nuclear threat. 

It was these brave men and women who truly represent Britain at its best.

This is why I want you to join me in paying tribute to our courageous servicemen and women, their loyal families, and the dedicated
civilians supporting our Armed Forces.

And let us not forget our veterans, the dignified widows and loved ones of those fallen, those with life changing injuries-seen or unseen-and, most importantly, to those who never made it home-you will never be forgotten.

Not a day passes where I don't think how lucky I am to work with our men and women in uniform or how humbled I am by this great responsibility.

That is why I am so determined to get the Ministry of Defence back on track after more than a decade of chaos under Labour. 

We always knew it would be hard-especially with the £38 billion black hole we inherited in the defence budget.

But the national deficit left behind by Labour also has a direct impact on our national security and our standing in the world.

You cannot be strong if you're broke.

This is what Labour always fails to understand.

George Osborne has been steadfast in his determination to reduce the deficit left behind and he has my full support.

The Nation must live within its means and every Department has to do its bit.

But even after the MoD's contribution to deficit reduction we still have the fourth largest defence budget in the world and we will continue to be one of only five countries (out of 28) in NATO meeting our 2% GDP obligation.

By the end of the decade the Royal Navy will not only have its world beating Type-45 destroyers and seven cutting edge Astute Class submarines but a step change in carrier capability that will be in service for 50 years. 

The RAF will have the Joint Strike Fighter and battle tested Typhoons and our aging Hercules and Tri-Star fleets will be replaced by the state of the art A400M and Voyager transport and tanker aircraft.

We are spending over £1 billion for new Chinook helicopters. Unlike the previous government, we are actually funding and delivering on the promise of more helicopters for our troops.

And this will support a remodelled and properly equipped army.

Few parts of our Armed Forces were more neglected by Labour than our Reserves.

That is why we will commit more than £1.8 billion over ten years to revolutionise our Reserve Forces- with the aim of increasing the size of the TA by 50%.

This party will never allow our Reserves to reach such a sorry state ever again.

And that's not all. Resources for our world renowned Special Forces are increasing, we are investing over £600m in cyber security, we are setting up a new four-star Joint Forces Command, and we are establishing the first ever UAV squadron in the RAF.

Finally, we will maintain and renew our continuous at sea, submarine launched,  nuclear deterrent based on the Trident missile. We cannot and will not take a chance on the security of future generations.

Our programme is both affordable and achievable. And to fund our commitments we will raise the defence equipment budget by 1% over and above the rate of inflation. 

However, it is not just the Armed Forces that need to change but the Ministry of Defence itself. This past year has seen some of the most radical reforms in a generation.

Can you believe that for years the Defence Board, the primary decision making body in the MoD, wasn't even chaired by the Defence Secretary?

It is now.

For years there was no real-time control on major equipment programmes to stop spiralling costs and constant delays.

There is now.

The Major Projects Review Board monitors the progress of the top 20 equipment programmes. And let me tell you, those programmes and those
companies that are not delivering are being named and shamed.

We have restructured the MoD, overhauled budgetary control, reformed  procurement, championed export promotion, and boosted support for small businesses.

And we have carried out a long overdue Basing Review, which will ensure that Her Majesty's Armed Forces will continue to be represented throughout the whole of the Union.

Furthermore, we have reversed the injustice done to the pilots killed, and their families, in the Mull of Kintyre tragedy.

And none of this could have been accomplished without my great ministerial team: Gerald Howarth, Peter Luff, Nick Harvey, Andrew Robathan, and Lord Astor; in addition to my defence Whip Mark Francois and my PPS Tobias Ellwood.

While all these changes are important we cannot forget that Defence is much more than the projection of hard power, the number of tanks or planes or ships or submarines.

We need new alliances and we need to revitalise some older ones too.

Since becoming Defence Secretary we have signed 27 defence agreements around the world and I hope to sign eight more in the next few months.

We have established the Northern Group with our Nordic and Baltic friends.

We have signed the UK-France Defence Treaty.

And we have put defence diplomacy at the heart of policy.

I was appalled to discover that many of our key allies around the world had been sorely neglected.

I was first Defence Secretary to have a bilateral visit to India in five years and to Turkey in seven years.

And in January William and I made the first ever joint Foreign and Defence Secretary trip to Australia and New Zealand, two of our closest allies. 

But of course, our Special Relationship with the United States is, and will continue to be, the UK's number one bilateral relationship and the cornerstone of our security.

Nowhere is this cooperation seen better than in Afghanistan where British and American troops are fighting side by side in Helmand Province.

By helping the Afghans manage their security, and preventing the use of Afghanistan as an international base for terrorism, we make it safer for us all.

The international community still has work to do but real progress has been made.

During this summer Central Helmand has seen a reduction of violence by one-third compared to the same period last year. 

In July the security responsibility of roughly a quarter of Afghanistan's population, including Lashkar Gah, was transferred to the Afghans.

But as security improves the insurgents will become increasingly desperate in their tactics.

We can expect to see the sort high profile attacks we have seen in Kabul recently, but we should not be deterred.

The Afghan National Security Forces are growing in both size and, more importantly, capability-and are in many cases leading operations against the insurgency.

And it's because of the progress made by the Afghan security forces, and the improvement in the security situation, that 500 British troops will be brought home by the end of 2012.

And no British troops will be in a combat role, or in the numbers they currently are, by 2015.

Make no mistake, this progress is not irreversible, and only a political solution will ultimately bring lasting stability to Afghanistan.
But our military's contribution has been vital and we should be proud of their courage and their achievements.

As with all conflicts, putting the men and women of our Armed Forces into harm's way is never done lightly.

But Libya offered us a very clear choice:

We could stand by and do nothing but with Qaddafi's forces at the gates of Benghazi and Misrata this meant the potential slaughter of more than one million innocent civilians.

Or we could act.

In the words of Prime Minister our action in Libya is "necessary, legal and right."

David Cameron's statecraft, leadership and resolve prevented what would have been a humanitarian disaster and we should be proud of what we have accomplished.

Libya has shown that Britain remains a global player.

Our Armed Forces with support from the foreign office carried out the evacuation of more than 1400 UK and other nationals.

The RAF contributed 20% of coalition air strikes.

Using high-tech weapon systems like Brimstone and Storm Shadow we have prevented civilian causalities and shown that we value human life more than Gaddafi's brutal regime.

I would like to thank British Industry for their outstanding work in making this possible.

The NATO led mission will continue until we are satisfied that the people of Libya are no longer threatened by remnants of the former regime.

Although the campaign is not yet over, the Libyan people can now shape their own destiny in a way that was unimaginable just six months ago.

And with the focus on Afghanistan and Libya let's not forget the Falklands. Next year is the 30th anniversary of the victory for self-determination in the Falklands.

A victory made possible by the resolve another Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. And we will continue to guarantee the security of the Falklands.

However, this is not the 1980's. We are now working towards healthier relations with the Argentinians.

But one thing is unchanged; for as long as the people of the Falklands choose to, they are, and will always be, British.

And let's also be clear about Gibraltar. Gibraltar has had a strategic importance to the UK for 300 years. It remains an important naval base and there can be no question over its sovereignty.

Let me say something about European Union Defence.

There are those in Europe who are calling for the EU to take a greater role in Europe's security.

Let me tell you, Europe already has a guarantor of its defence-it's called NATO.

It is nonsense to duplicate and divert from NATO at a time when resources are scarce across Europe. And the last thing we need is more EU bureaucracy.

You know, many of those calling for deeper EU defence integration are already failing to fulfil their commitments to NATO. My message to them is clear, you cannot expect to have the insurance policy but ask others to pay the premiums.

NATO must maintain its primacy in European defence because NATO is the alliance that keeps the United States in Europe. This not a luxury, it is a necessity.

And at a time when we are reducing the number of military headquarters in NATO it is not the time to start increasing them in the European Union.

That is why William Hague vetoed the long-term euro-aspiration of creating of a Permanent EU Military Headquarters.

Two weeks ago I attended a service in Westminster Abbey to mark the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion-an organisation that has done so much for so many who have served this country.

Today our forces and their families are still making sacrifices and I want to pay tribute to all the Service Charities who do so much great work.

I said last year that I wished we could do more to improve the welfare of our Armed Forces, their families and our veterans.

Since then we have created a new Tri-Service Armed Forces Covenant and for the first time put it into the law of the land.

We have doubled the Council Tax rebate for those serving on Operations from 25% to 50%.

And having doubled it last year for Afghanistan we have now extended the Operational Allowance to include Libya.

We have set up a new Community Covenant scheme where local communities are able to bid for £30m of government funding for local projects connecting people to the Armed Forces in their communities. In the first six weeks alone 31 applications have been made.

I'm sure that I speak for all of us here when I say there can be few images more moving than those of the tributes paid to our fallen heroes as they passed along the solemn route through Wootten Bassett.

This is why, when it was time to move the repatriation centre from RAF Lyneham back to Brize Norton we spent £2.8 million on a new repatriation centre.

This ensures that the return of our heroes will continue to receive the appropriate and dignified ceremony they and their loved ones deserve. 

Sadly, the financial position we inherited means that we cannot go as far or as fast as we might like in rebuilding the covenant but we have made a solid start.

The office of Defence Secretary is one of the great offices of Government.

It allows you to work with some of the brightest and best minds around.

But it also reminds you of something-something that we seem too often to forget-That Britain stands for something.

To represent Britain, in war as well as in peace, is to represent our inherent democratic values, the rule of law and respect for life.

Liberty and security are not the natural state of affairs-they have to be fought for and defended in every place and every generation. And
we have a duty to uphold the sacrifices made in the past.

At the Royal British Legion Service a line struck me from "In Flanders Fields". It said:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

So let us remember who we are, be proud of our history and our achievements, never forget those who sacrificed so much for what we have today, and celebrate the values we hold so dear. Because it is these things that make Britain great.

Thank you.

Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox

Liam is the MP for North Somerset. He worked as a Civilian Army Medical Officer and a GP before becoming an MP.

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