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Michael Fallon - Ministry of Defence

I am today laying before both Houses the 2015 Armed Forces Covenant annual report. The Covenant is a promise by the nation to ensure that those who serve, or have served, and their families are treated fairly. They protect the nation with honour, courage and commitment, and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.

The report sets out what the Government has done to uphold the principles of the Covenant. The Armed Forces Act 2011 enshrined the Covenant into law, setting out the requirement for the Defence Secretary to report progress annually to Parliament.

Last year we reported that every local authority in mainland Great Britain had signed the Covenant, and I can confirm that over 750 employers have also now signed up.

This year particular emphasis has been given to supporting Armed Forces families. The Department of Health has embedded the principles of the Covenant into the NHS constitution to ensure Service families access healthcare where and when they need it. The schools admissions code has been amended to prioritise Service children, and Service families can now apply for, and be allocated a school place before they move to the area. Over 5,000 personnel have also been helped into homeownership through the Forces Help to Buy Scheme. We will aim to double this number to 10,000 by next year.

A further significant change is the inclusion of veterans from the Merchant Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary as core members of the Armed Forces Community.

The report has been compiled in consultation with other Government Departments, representatives from the devolved Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the external members of the Covenant Reference Group, which includes the three Service Families Federations, the Confederation of Service Charities, the Royal British Legion, the Soldiers Sailors Airmans and Families Association, the War Widows Association and Professor Hugh Strachan.

Mr Philip Hammond - Foreign and Commonwealth Office

For just over 10 years the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has offered special assistance, on a case by case basis, to British nationals involved in a terrorist incident overseas. Since 2008, this type assistance has been known as Exceptional Assistance Measures (EAM). It allows Ministers to activate special measures which go above our normal level of consular support which vary according to the circumstances of each situation. It is only activated in extremis and once other financial avenues have been exhausted.

In 2010, the policy was updated by the then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to include those British nationals who had not taken out travel insurance prior to travelling. In line with standard consular policy, EAM has been applied in cases only when a British national has been directly affected, often injured or killed, in a terrorist incident. It has not been offered to British relatives of a foreign national directly involved in a terrorist incident overseas.

We have applied EAM in 2015 for a number of terrorist incidents, including the attack in Sousse in June in which 30 British nationals were killed, and most recently for the response to the attacks in Paris on 13 November. For the Sousse attack, EAM was used to repatriate the bodies of British Nationals killed and to arrange medical evacuations for British nationals injured in the incident.

The FCO conducted a review of the EAM policy in 2015 involving interested parties and stakeholders. We concluded that, while there would be no changes to the overall policy, the FCO should improve the information we provide internally and externally on EAM. We will update FCO consular public advice on EAM accordingly through future publications.


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