Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  180. In the Navy you would expect that list to appear? I am getting worried some people might find they have not got equality of treatment, and it just depends on the discretion of the commanding officer?
  (Commodore Bryant) I am sure I shall draw on my colleagues' advice.

  181. You said you felt in this era the same treatment should be offered to officers as to other ranks, would that be because this summary dealing would be regarded as the softer option?
  (Commodore Bryant) No.

  182. If I was up for drunkenness would there not be any difference in whether it was a softer option?
  (Commodore Bryant) That will be within your gift, because you will always have the right as the accused to opt for a trial by court-martial if you feel that would be a better way of dealing with the case.

  183. In cases where you think it would be better to be torn off a strip it would be semi-formal presumably, but it would not be with the formality of the court-martial?
  (Commodore Bryant) It would certainly be done formally. The sort of penalties we are talking about are reprimand, fine or stoppages of up to 14 days' pay. 14 days of an officer's pay is not an inconsiderable sum of money.

  184. I am wondering if it would mean any change in morale amongst officers?
  (Commodore Bryant) No, I do not think so.

  185. An officer has to appear in front of a court-martial and presumably that is more demeaning, if you like?
  (Commodore Bryant) Indeed. We are going to be talking about minor cases of irresponsibility here, rather than those which are calling an officer's total judgment into question.

  186. When a person is making their decision of how to be treated would they be aware of who the superior officer would be?
  (Commodore Bryant) In the normal chain of command he would, yes.

  187. Obviously on a ship it tends to be—
  (Commodore Bryant) —the commanding officer. As we have heard, a commander in command, for instance, can deal with lieutenants, which will form most of his officer corps. If, let us say, a lieutenant commander transgressed it would normally be the captain of the frigate squadron who dealt with him.

  188. They would be reasonably aware of who they were going to appear in front of?
  (Commodore Bryant) Yes.

Mr Crausby

  189. I just wonder how the Royal Marines presently fit into this. Are they with the naval system or a combination?
  (Commodore Bryant) They normally serve under the Army Act (it is a dichotomy with the Royal Marines) except when they are forming part of a formal ship's company, when they form under the NDA (Naval Discipline Act 1957). By and large, now we are bringing all these procedures into—

  190. Are they generally happy with this as well?
  (Commodore Bryant) Yes.

Mr Keetch

  191. There has been some suggestion that changes we are seeking to make would blunt Service discipline because of the presence in the front line, and in the Navy in the front line, of female sailors and female officers. On several warships I have been on I have seen females doing better in equal jobs as males. In your experience has there been any reluctance on the part of officers to chastise female ratings; or do you think that might be a problem in the future; or do you actually think there is no real practical problem?
  (Commodore Bryant) I think it would be naive to deny that there has been anecdotal talking of this sort of thing. In my experience I have never come across it. I have been in command of a ship with 10 per cent. female ratings and officers on board; it certainly was not a problem there. In the last four years in this job looking after naval discipline I have not come across any objective case of that whatsoever.

  192. Even if there might be anecdotal evidence, there is nothing in this Bill we are looking at that might increase that potential?
  (Commodore Bryant) Not at all.

Mr Key

  193. On this occasion I am rather sorry there are no women in the front line. I would like to get some very practical advice here. Indeed, it might have been nice to have had a warrant officer present. "Minor cases of irresponsibility" were referred to by the Commodore—part of the ethos of the Services is that in very difficult and dangerous circumstances, and in deeply boring circumstances, waiting for something to happen while you are sitting on top of a hill in Kosovo, the Falklands or anywhere else, one of the few perks of the job is, shall we say, adult material. I have seen some pretty spectacular adult material in all sorts of circumstances with the Forces. This is quite reasonably, in my opinion, just regarded as "Well, that's how it goes; it's part of the thing". I have no difficulty with that. However, I do wonder how we are going to see any kind of uniformity of approach to this sort of thing. It is an encroaching issue. For example, we have seen adult material which is downloaded by computer which is clearly contrary to the Obscene Publications Act. We see City firms sacking their employees for sending indiscreet e-mails, and receiving indiscreet images. How are the Forces approaching this? How will this Bill deal with that? What code of practices will be issued, if any; because we have had references to a code of practice earlier in the Bill? Or are we just going to go on turning a blind eye? Which does not bother me, but will bother people increasingly. How is that going to square with the increasing number of women in the Forces?
  (Mr Miller) As you yourself make clear, Mr Key, this is not a problem which is unique to the Services—it exists in civilian life outside; indeed, in previous posts I have faced this problem in establishments I have controlled. It is one of those areas where a great deal depends on the judgment of the individual manager in a civilian context, and the commanding officer in the context of the Services. I certainly am not aware of any individual cases which have caused concern at the Ministry of Defence level. I have no doubt that this has involved sometimes quite tricky decisions by commanding officers, but we seem to have got by without serious problems. My approach on this would be much like my approach in a number of other areas. I would want to prepare and issue guidelines if I thought there was a real need; but, again, I would be unwilling to restrict discretion more than I had to. It is really a case of: "if it ain't bust, don't fix it".

  194. That is a very reassuring, entirely level-headed and sensible approach as far as I am concerned; but I suspect it will not be a matter for the discretion of the commanding officer. There will be a whistle-blower of some description who is going to cause problems in this respect, and it might become a criminal matter if it was a question of the Obscene Publications Act. I just wonder how that is going to be handled?
  (Mr Miller) If the exposure of material amounted to the exposure of criminal material then there is no doubt an offence has been committed and we would expect that to be subject to proper disciplinary action. Obviously if the general law were to change on this, we would change in line with it.
  (Brigadier Howell) We have certainly prosecuted soldiers for downloading paedophile material.
  (Brigadier Cottam) When in April 2000 we set out our standard of conduct for the Services, we really did that in order to represent the amendments to the law. In those values and standards we clearly laid down a code of social conduct that was free of gender issues, and obliged the leadership of the Armed Forces to confront inappropriate behaviour at whatever level. I endorse what our leader has said in that respect, that we do have standards that we have set for ourselves which are meant to be abiding for the modern Services and the modern circumstances in which we find ourselves. I think we, therefore, are not as anxious about the situation as described by a member of your Committee. We do see ourselves as having a standard of conduct which people can measure in terms of operational effectiveness. The Service test, if you like, is: is this affecting operational effectiveness? Is it acceptable? Is it a criminal act? We have gone a long way in the last year to explain that to the chain of command, so that they can confront inappropriate behaviour properly.

Mr Davies

  195. Brigadier, if you have a code of any kind it must be comprehensible. What does "inappropriate conduct" mean?
  (Brigadier Cottam) We have laid down, certainly within the Army, first of all, the standards that we expect of people in terms of the team before an individual, courage, morale and integrity.

  196. Those are general principles?
  (Brigadier Cottam) As against those we have then set a code of social conduct in terms of what would be acceptable regarding sexual harassment and other things of that kind. I think that the chain of command understand that very well.

  197. Is this published?
  (Brigadier Cottam) Yes, it is.

  Mr Davies: Have we seen a copy of this, Chairman.

  Mr Key: It is in the library.

Mr Davies

  198. It may be in the library, but there are hundreds of things in the library and unless I am aware it is there to look for I will not be able to find it. Could we have a copy?
  (Mr Miller) I will arrange for a copy to be sent to you.

  199. Could I just come back to the Commodore. I want to be specific about these things to understand how it is going to work. Are you going to be issuing guidance in the Navy, for example, to commanding officers, captains of ships, or the command structure generally as to when it is appropriate to deal with an offence informally; when it is appropriate to use the summary procedure which you are now going to have available to you for the first time in the Navy; and when a court-martial is appropriate?
  (Commodore Bryant) Yes, we will. Speaking for the Naval Service, we have Personal, Legal and General Orders, which is a readable publication and gives the logic behind our policies, not least the code of conduct we have spoken about, and all the legal nuances about how a commanding officer should approach them. That book will be available to the Master of Arms, first lieutenant captain of a ship.

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