Examination of witness (Questions 1004
TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001 Afternoon sitting
1004. Good afternoon. Can I extend a very warm
welcome indeed to Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, Chief of the Defence
Staff. Thank you very much for making yourself available to the
Armed Forces Bill Committee this afternoon to give us your views
and to give us the opportunity of asking questions. Is there anything,
Admiral, you would like to say by way of opening remarks?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No, thank
1005. Can I ask you directly then whether there
is anything in this proposed Armed Forces Bill which you think
could make Service discipline more difficult to maintain or any
proposals in the Bill which you think might help improve Service
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I do not think there is
anything in the Bill which would make discipline more difficult
to maintain. There are some areas where I think it will improve
the way we actually conduct our discipline. The idea, for example,
of having warrant officers able to sit on courts martial gives
us the opportunity to use the experience of these excellent people
within the service, and I am sure that will be perceived as a
good thing, which in turn must reflect on the overall discipline.
I think some of the powers which are being given to our Service
police in terms of search will also be helpful to smooth the way
in which discipline is conducted. On the whole, I think if it
will have any impact at all, it should be a beneficial impact.
1006. Can I take this opportunity to congratulate
you on your appointment as Chief of Defence Staff. I am sure all
members of the Committee and Members of the House of Commons will
be very pleased to see you take up your new role. The suggestion
has been made on the floor of the House of Commons that some of
the changes we have recently made to armed forces discipline have
in some way actually dented our capability as a military nation.
We are all very proud of our Armed Services heritage; I am very
proud of my Service connections. Is there anything that we have
done in recent times that you feel has actually dented our operational
capability in terms of the changes that we have made to discipline?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No. The changes which
have had the most impact in recent years, of course, are relatively
young. It is only about five months or so since they came into
being, and there is nothing to indicate that they are affecting
operational effectiveness. I will not deny that they are causing
more of a bureaucratic load. I do not use the word "bureaucratic"
in a pejorative sense at all. There is an increased load on the
command, but as they get more used to operating new practices,
so the way will be smoother and they will work the system more
quickly. I am sure that we must be seen to be reflecting the proper
standards of investigation and so forth that one would expect,
which would leave us whiter than white if we were ever challenged
in the appeal courts, wherever they may be. This is a necessary
bureaucratic burden at the moment which will become less of a
burden as we get used to using it.
1007. We were told of that burden when we visited
forces around the country and around the world during the course
of this Bill, but in terms of the changes to summary discipline,
for example, which the Armed Forces Discipline Act brought in
last year, again, there might be more forms to fill in, as is
the case wherever you are, but apart from that, it has not affected
our military capability, so far as you can determine?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No, it has not, and indeed,
some of our worst fears on the bureaucratic side which could have
bounced back into operations are not being realised; for example,
the number of appeals against summary findings is much lower than
we expected. Again, it is very early days, and the number of appeals
may grow as time goes on, but I come back to the point that so
far, in the short time we have been operating it, I have not been
given any cause to be concerned about operational effectiveness.
1008. I take it, knowing you reasonably well,
that you would insist that you told Parliament if you felt we
were doing such a thing.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) As I have said in other
committees and in other places as well, operational effectiveness
is my benchmark and my line in the sand, and I can assure you
that if operational effectiveness were being affected by anything,
I would make that perfectly clear.
1009. Following on from that, CDS, do you think
it was a good idea to make the European Human Rights Convention
directly applicable to the military in this country, or do you
think it would have been more sensible to have sought a derogation
for the military, as the French have done, from the application
of that Convention?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If I am right, we are
going back a few decades now to when we made that decision in
the first place. It is easy to say in a rather selfish way that
if we had derogated we would not have to worry about these sorts
of things. On the other hand, I think it is better for us in the
longer term if we are seen to have been exposed to all the initiatives
that have come up through the legislative chain and the human
rights chain, and to test our operational effectiveness and the
way we do our business against those, and where there are sensible
areas for us to have exemptions, for those to be examined and
for us to prove our case that we need to be exempted for good
operational reasons, rather than a blanket exemption. Indeed,
there is a good example of that, I think, in the way that we have
handled the Disability Bill, and ministers were able to argue
that it would not be sensible for operational effectiveness were
we to comply with that particular Act.
1010. Do you think there will be other areas
where there will need to be exemptions or derogations?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) There may be, Mr Davies.
It is possible, but I do not think we should have a blanket exemption
right across the board from now and for ever. We approach each
of these Bills as they come up and look to see where it is appropriate
for there to be exemptions.
1011. Let me ask you about another piece of
prospective legislation, because it is very important for this
House to get the best military advice before we legislate. Do
you have any concerns about the potential impact of our ratification
of the treaty setting up the International Criminal Court on military
morale or operational effectiveness?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I do know a bit about
this Bill, and I think we need to be very careful indeed that
when the Bill is taken through Parliament, we do not put ourselves
in a situation where a junior person carrying out orders which
he believes to be entirely proper can subsequently find himself
in front of the International Criminal Court. So far I have been
told that this is unlikely to happen, because the national court
would have the opportunity to investigate the case if it were
pointed in that direction by the ICC.
1012. Is it good enough to hear that it is "unlikely
to happen", or would you prefer to have a more concrete exemption
or derogation or protection in law?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I cannot say that "unlikely"
fills me with huge confidence. I would be much happier with a
completely unequivocal statement, but I guess that is probably
the best I will get.
1013. This is again an area where if an exemption
or derogation could be achieved for the military, you would like
us to achieve it.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) If there are ways which
guaranteed that the word "unlikely" could be removed,
that would be more comforting.
1014. The Americans do not want anything to
do with this at all. Do you think that is perhaps the solution?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I have heard two different
stories about where the Americans stand over the last few weeks.
1015. You have not discussed this with the Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No, I have not.
1016. Have there been any other discussions
with the American military on this, so far as you know?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Not to my knowledge, no.
1017. Do you think it might be a good idea to
initiate such discussions?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am not sure where it
would necessarily take us.
Mr Davies: If the Americans think they
have seen a way of achieving the protection you want, perhaps
we might compare notes.
Chairman: Mr Davies, I am not sure the
Americans have a direct relationship with the Bill that we are
looking at at the moment.
1018. I think, Admiral, if you want to take
that as an excuse not to answer my question, you are probably
able to do so, but if you want to answer the question, you are
welcome to do so.
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am not sure. There are
so many other factors that come into play with myself talking
to my military counterparts in America and there are so many other
authorities that I do not think it would be an exercise which
would necessarily lead to a useful conclusion.
1019. Do you have any other areas that have
not emerged from the discussion we have just had where you think
it would be right in order to maintain operational effectiveness,
in order to maintain the military ethos in this country and the
morale of the people serving in the armed forces, that we should
provide additional legal protection against some of these hazards?
(Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am as confident as I
can be at the moment that we are taking what actions we need to
in the light of legislative Bills coming forward to have exemptions
where appropriate. Three or four years ago we were not well set