The Armed Forces

This week another senior member of our armed forces spoke out controversially, this time about the poor condition of some military accommodation.

I am uneasy about military figures getting drawn into politics, not least for their own sake. But they are clearly reflecting deep unease in the services.

Recently I received a letter from the parents of an officer serving in Afghanistan expressing grave concerns about incorrect equipment and shortages in his military unit, including lightweight summer sleeping bags where temperatures are currently well below freezing.

Another very senior former officer in my constituency recently told me of his concern that our armed forces are being stretched to their limit. Quite apart from major operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the British Army is currently deployed in over 80 countries. If we, the politicians, make these commitments, our responsibility is to equip our forces properly and provide the necessary support to their families.

In a report published just before Christmas, the House of Commons Defence Committee warned of insufficient numbers of helicopters available to our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Committee also stated that, as a result of Britain's current military commitments, "there is a risk that pressures rise to a point at which Service personnel - or their families - feel that enough is enough."

The Government's belated announcement of a cash bonus for those on current operations does not address the fundamental objection that our forces pay income tax while they are fighting overseas - something which does not happen in many other countries.

Lieutenant General Viggers, the Army's personnel chief, speaks of the importance of the "military covenant", by which the State supports our soldiers, and their families, in return for the sacrifices - sometimes the ultimate sacrifice - which they make for our country. That covenant must be honoured.

Michelle Taylor