Examination of Witnesses (Questions 890
TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2001
890. I suggest to Committee members that we
move straight on because time is marching on and I know one or
two Committee members may have to depart shortly. Can I give you
a very warm welcome. Have I pronounced your name correctly?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) It is Gwyntopher; it rhymes with
891. Sorry, Mrs Gwyntopher, and Mrs Johnson
and I do apologise for the delay. I know, however, that you have
been here throughout the sessions so you will appreciate our anxiety
to try and ensure that we hear fully from the witnesses that are
giving us evidence this morning and on that basis we are very
keen indeed to give you full opportunity to make your points of
view. We have already had some very useful written evidence from
yourself and a number of other organisations who support your
point of view. Can I invite you, Mrs Gwyntopher and yourself Mrs
Johnson, to make any brief opening remarks before I open it up
to the Committee members for questions.
(Mrs Gwyntopher) I would like to take up something
that was arising from the evidence of the previous witnesses in
answer to questions put by Mr Watts which I think may be a basic
misunderstanding about the legal status of members of the Armed
Forces. You made the point, I think, that whether people were
arrested by the military police or were arrested by civilian police,
they would still have the normal protections afforded by a court
of law. That is not true. With members of the Armed Forces who
have never committed any criminal offence but have gone absent
without leave, they do not have the protections that are allowed
to people accused of criminal offences. When an absentee is picked
up they can be picked up by either military police or civilian
police. Usually it is civilian police because they come to the
attention of the civilian police, that is how they get caught,
but military police raiding a home on a council estate with dogs
when they know somebody is there and is not offering any resistance
is done. When someone is picked up by the civilian police the
sole duty of the civilian police is to take them, put them in
a police cell and immediately contact the military police. There
is no process of law involved. They are not normally seen by a
duty solicitor because it is not a legal matter, it is not a criminal
law matter. When they return to the base they are usually in custody
in the guard house until they appear before their commanding officer.
The appearance before the commanding officer is the rough equivalent
of appearance in a magistrates court. The commanding officer has
power to give up to 60 days' detention. There is no entitlement
to legal representation, the hearing is not in public and the
commanding officer who is taking the place of a magistrate is
in a different position. In a civilian court a magistrate who
realised that he or she was the landlord or employer of the defendant
would disqualify themselves, but in fact the defendant appears
before the person, and as the offence is against the regiment
the commanding officer also embodies the victim of the offence,
so it is very, very different from the checks and balances of
neutral assessment and justice that we allow other citizens. I
think that is important.
892. Can I clarify the point. The point I was
raising was in regard to journalists who were civilians being
arrested by military police.
(Mrs Gwyntopher) They have rights.
Chairman: Thank you, Mrs Gwyntopher.
I have to say listening to your knowledge that it links in very
much to the issue of under-18s serving in our Armed Forces. I
think for myself and probably other members of the Committee our
contact with families has often been in respect of under-18 members
of the family who have gone absent without leave and then how
they are dealt with. Can I invite Mr Keetch to begin, though,
with some questions.
893. Thank you and I must apologise because
I need to leave perhaps before the end of this session. I wanted
to take up this point about 16 and 17 and 18-year-olds and the
difference. Do you accept that it is necessary for us to recruit
16-year-olds into the Armed Forces on the basis that if we do
not they will go off and do something else and then will not join
(Mrs Gwyntopher) I would query the basis of your question.
Certainly it is truethis was very strongly put to us by
Brigadier Walker and Dr Frank Priceit is easier to recruit.
At the moment the military have found it is easier to recruit
young people straight from school who have no work experience
and do not understand the contracts they are signing than it is
to recruit adults who have work experience, who have further education
and have a greater chance of understanding their contracts. I
do accept that it is harder to attract people and that if people
are not grabbed when they are 16 they may go and settle in another
occupation and they may therefore be more difficult to attract.
So as a tactic I think I would say if we think purely of the military
894. Just for the record, you are shaking your
(Mrs Gwyntopher) For the record I am shaking my head.
I am saying as a tactic, yes, it is an expedient policy. I think
what we are trying to move to is whether this is right. Even on
grounds of expediency, I was a guest lecturer to a conference
of European soldiers' trade unionists and speaking with the Ministry
of Defence representative
895. Was that soldiers' trade unionists?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) Yes. France and Britain are the only
countries in Europe that now forbid any form of soldiers' representative
association or trade union, the only ones. The rest of Europe
allow it. In some such as Ireland they do not have full trade
union status, it is a bit like our Police Federation, but every
other country in Europe and the former Soviet bloc countries are
allowing trade unions. There are two federations, the European
Council of Conscript Organisations, which represents conscripts,
and Euromil, which represents the regular forces. The reason I
attend the Federation is for the simple reason that our law does
not allow any soldier to attend such a gathering and therefore
it is necessary for lay organisations to explain the British situation.
896. Mrs Johnson shook her head when I asked
the question, so you do not accept, Mrs Johnson, that it is necessary
to recruit at 16?
(Mrs Johnson) No, I do not because the men who join
at 18 really want to and they will make a success. In other words,
they are not going to be regretting it within a year and possibly
ruining their lives by it.
897. Can you name me one other profession, apart
from becoming a Member of Parliament which you cannot join until
you are 21, can you join the Police Force, can you join the Fire
Brigade, can you join the Prison Service?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) You cannot qualify as a social worker
until the age of 22.
898. So you would lump members of the Armed
Forces with social workers?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) We have never opposed recruitment
at any age. I am not saying that it is wrong for soldiers to join
at 16. What I am saying is wrong is the contracts which bind them
into adulthood. There is no other profession where you can be
imprisoned for leaving your profession and I would ask everybody
in this room to think of what they wanted to do when they were
16 years old. If you signed a contract that meant you could not
leave until you were 22, if you tried to leave you would be put
on trial and you would be locked up for six to nine months, or
12 months if you tried to run away forever, and then you would
be returned. That is the situation of these young people.
899. Fine, so the point that concerns you is
not my first question as to whether it is right or wrong or acceptable
or not to join at 16, your concern is that by joining at 16 you
are then tied into a contract. If then we had a situation where
you could join at 16 and that was reviewed at 18 and you were
then allowed to leave you would be quite content?
(Mrs Gwyntopher) Dr John Reid promised us that when
Labour were elected