Examination of Witnesses (Questions 960
TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001 (Morning sitting)
960. It has been suggested to us that the level
of AWOL for Service personnel under 18 is increasing considerably.
(Mr Miller) Clearly, we do not have the statistics,
but that is not our general impression.
961. I raised earlier the question of non-statutory
rules and regulations that are faced by servicemen and their legal
representatives. Obviously, if we are talking about Army legal
service, or indeed RAF, they are familiar with and have full access
to Queen's Regulations, Standing Orders and so on, but the civilian
lawyer really does not, and a lot of it is classified to some
degree or other. I think there is some more openness now happening,
and, indeed, in answer to a Parliamentary Question of mine there
was a lot more put in the library of the Housewhich is,
I suppose, tantamount to publishing it. Do you feel that the Ministry
of Defence is being too secretive about the wrong things and that,
as a result, justice suffers?
(Mr Miller) To answer the implied question, the majority
of the documents that will be needed for the preparation of the
defence of an individual are public documents. So there is no
reason at all why a solicitor should have difficulty in getting
hold of them. We are not conscious, again, of any specific problems
and it was only when the evidence was given by the representative
of Forces Law that I became aware of this. I think if any solicitor
has difficulties with locating specific documents they could always
make contact with us and we will facilitate that.
962. Brigadier, do you want to add something?
(Brigadier Cottam) Madam Chairman, there is just one
point of detail which may have been the cause of this inquiry
which can easily be put right. The Army General Administrative
Instruction 70 that deals specifically with redress, which has
just been republished, has been republished with a restrictive
heading, which was not the intent. It would be very easy for us
to put that right and it is just possible that that is the issue
that has arisen. Of course, the soldiers themselves have every
right to have that document and, therefore, they can discuss it
with their solicitor and would normally and easily be given the
right so to do if they were put in that position because of making
a redress, and the chain of command would allow that. It is just
possible that that has been rather harshly referred to, and we
will put that right. It does not represent any real bar, at the
moment, to access to that document.
963. Can we now then move on to the under-18s
issues that have been raised with us. I am well aware this has
come under scrutiny by previous Committees as well. Some of the
points that have been made are certainly not new issues. Can I
open up by asking how long must a recruit who joins the Services
at 16 serve if they do not exercise their right to leave within
six months? Has this changed since our predecessors reported and
made their recommendations in 1996?
(Mr Miller) Apart from the right to leave within the
first six months, an individual under the age of 18 can be discharged
under what is known as "the arrangements for unhappy juniors".
In other words, any young serviceman or woman who is clearly unhappy
and unsuited for Service life can be discharged at any point until
they reach the age of 18 or in some cases 18 years and three months.
The minimum return of service required differs between the three
Servicesdiffers in detail; in some cases it counts from
the age of 18 and in others it counts from the point of completing
initial training. Effectively, it means that you are tied to the
service for between three and four years from the age of 18. That
is the general range.
964. Can you just explain to us what happens
when somebody joins the service at 16 and they do not exercise
their right to leave after six months? How long do they have to
stay in the Armed Services?
(Mr Miller) Again, if he is actively unhappy he can
be discharged at any stage up to the age of 18 years and three
months. There is some variation, but effectively until he reaches
the age of majority.
965. Is that the same in all three Services?
(Mr Miller) Yes.
966. Has that changed recently at all?
(Mr Miller) The Navy have had that particular provision
for many years. I am less sure about the other two Services when
the change was actually made, but it has certainly been in for
967. It has been suggested to us that this is
a problem. We had evidence, and I am sure you have seen it, from
(Mr Miller) There are periodic problems with youngsters
who find themselves unsuited to Service life and are unhappy and
remain beyond the six-month point. That is why these provisions
are there, because it certainly is not in the Services' interest
to keep a youngster in those circumstances, never mind his or
968. Can I be quite clear. You say there is
provision for unhappy young people to leave the forces. Is that
automatic if they are unhappy? Can they leave? Are they allowed
(Mr Miller) Leaving within the first six months is
an absolute right.
969. After that?
(Mr Miller) It would be for the youngster to demonstrate
effectively that he was unhappy and unsuited. I have to say that
in practice I have never known of cases in which a commanding
officer was difficult about a youngster saying he wanted to leave.
970. Do you have any figures for applications
made and applications granted?
(Mr Miller) I certainly have not got any here. I do
not know whether they exist or not.
971. After the six months it is at the discretion
of the commanding officer?
(Mr Miller) Yes.
(Brigadier Cottam) Madam Chairman, it is more than
merely discretion. There is a specific Queen's Regulation, 9414D(3),
which sets out a specific requirement on the commanding officer
to keep a note of these unhappy juniors, to watch closely their
situation and, at no stage, preventing them the right to elect
to leave up to the age of 18 and, in the Army's case, the age
of 18 and three months, which gives some recognition of the period
of time as they adjust to adult serviceperhaps by that
stage they are in an adult unit as opposed to still in the training
system to give that small amount of additional time. That
is a very specific requirement rather than something that is purely
reliant on the commander's judgment, although of course it still
is, to a great extent, as well.
972. How clear is it at 16 that they may have
to serve between six months and x years, effectively? I am sure
that is explained to them but do they absolutely understand the
implications of that?
(Mr Miller) It is spelled out very clearly to them
during the recruiting process. Indeed, I have been in the recruiting
office when it was spelled out to a young man. Even allowing for
the fact that the recruiting sergeant may have been going through
it with particular care because I was there, the procedures are
there and it is laid out. The extent to which an individual comprehends
what is being meant by the term for which he is signing is something
that is impossible to judge.
973. At 16 it is a third of their life again.
I just wondered how much they understand.
(Mr Miller) I take the point, and I accept that there
may be individuals who, perhaps, only have a fairly hazy idea
of what it means. On the other hand, at that age they certainly
feel able to commit themselves to all sorts of other things without
974. A couple of points. What would be the procedure
after six months for an unhappy junior? Do you have to formally
request to see the CO or do you knock on the door and say "Look,
I'm really not very happy"?
(Mr Miller) In the normal way there is a formal process,
quite clearly. I think there are two points to make. One is that
this clause is not always activated by the individual; there are
occasions when the CO himself will take the initiative because
he feels the individual is not fitting in well. The second is
that I would normally expect, in any such case, that there would
have been a certain amount of informal discussion with the youngster's
platoon commander or company commander in Army terms, or divisional
officer in the Navy or RAF equivalent. Quite likely he would have
been advised to give it a try for another couple of months or
something, there would undoubtedly have been access to the Chaplaincy
and probably to other welfare support, so that by the time he
got to see his commanding officer formally there would probably
have been quite a background in terms of informal contact and
975. At the recruiting stage when you told them
"You can leave after six months" would it be also said
"If at any time after that you really are seriously unhappy
you have the possibility of leaving before you are 18"? I
know you would not want to encourage it
(Mr Miller) It is not something I can answer from
my own experience, but I would certainly expect the point to be
registered that there was an option there, and I would expect
all the trainees to be well aware of this.
976. It is unlikely, if somebody was just about
coming up to 18, to be told "Give it another couple months
and see how you go" and then find themselves out of time?
(Mr Miller) I really would not have expected the commanding
officer of a unit to operate in that way.
977. You said it does differ between 18 years
and 18 years and three months.
(Mr Miller) The Army work to 18 years and three months.
978. Do you think there would be a case for
standardising that throughout the Services?
(Mr Miller) There is an argument, I think. We have,
of course, been urged by the Defence Committee not to standardise
for the sake of standardisation.
979. Obviously, but would you say there was
a case on its own merit for standardisation?
(Mr Miller) I think this is something that we would
want to consider.