Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 1080 - 1094)

TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001 Afternoon sitting


  1080. No, quite. If you thought people were in moral danger in a unit you might well feel that you ought to do something about it without at all divulging information which has been given to you confidentially about individuals, is that right? You see what I am driving at, do you not, Chaplain-General? I am trying to get a clear feel for the guidelines under which you operate. I am sure that it is your task to set those guidelines or review those guidelines and make sure that all the chaplains are quite clear about how they will respond to these dilemmas.
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) It is not up to me to set the guidelines under which a man conducts himself as a minister. Those guidelines, those base lines are set by the sending churches not by me. A man who comes into the Army is commissioned as a chaplain and he comes in with the mandate of the sending churches. I operate under a licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury as a chaplain to Her Majesty's Forces. It is not a licence granted to me by the CDS or the Minister of State.

  1081. Those guidelines might be different depending on the denomination of the chaplain?
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) Precisely but when they come in, because it is a united chaplaincy, we tend to have rules which operate right across the board. The confidentiality issue was set by my predecessor and signed up by the Chaplain-General, the Deputy Chaplain-General and the principal Roman Catholic Chaplain in consultation with the sending churches.

  Mr Davies: We have got the confidentiality principle absolutely clear and you are very firm about that, and I am delighted to hear that by the way. Can you tell the Committee what, beyond that principle, you tend to say to your deputies, to other chaplains, either who consult you or in general terms if you are briefing them or discussing this matters with them by way of guidance?

  Chairman: Mr Davies, what relevance does that have?

  Mr Davies: Obviously it is important in terms of whether or not the chaplaincy is in fact a conduit for information to senior officers about problems that may arise in the areas of moral and discipline.


  1082. My question is because the Chaplain-General has given a very clear outline of the primacy of confidentiality for priests and ministers and as a Committee we have witnessed for ourselves how a commanding officer who is keen to keep in touch with the issues and concerns and situations that might potentially cause disciplinary problems will, amongst other people, look to Service chaplains to highlight general issues that are coming up. Am I correct in saying that?
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) I think that is a reasonable résumé, Chairman.

Mr Davies

  1083. There is nothing you want to add to that résumé?
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) Not at this point, no.

  1084. Let me finally ask you a quantitative question, if I might, Chaplain-General. I realise a large part of your work is individual counselling, the sort of thing you have been talking about but obviously there is the formal part which is the provision of services and so on. There are about 200,000 men and women in the Army Service at the present time. On average how many of them turn up to a Sunday service or, if you like, to put it the way the Church of England count their numbers, how many would turn up if they were present in their units on that day to an Easter Sunday service?
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) That is a very difficult question to answer because it is often put to me "Oh, I was in X, Y, Z Garrison Church last Sunday and there were 40 or 50 people who were there and, shall we say, 25 per cent of them would have been former Service personnel". I do not have a problem with former Service personnel being there.

  1085. Of course not.
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) If they feel comfortable in a garrison church context because of the service they have given to the Crown I am more than happy for them to be there and support younger Service personnel. If you look at it on a Sunday by Sunday basis, we would have to aggregate those kinds of figures by X number of garrison churches but that is not the whole story, is it, because when I was a senior chaplain in Catterick, for example, I could have two or three weddings on a Saturday—

  1086. I can see we are going to get caught up in the methodology. Let me just ask you how many Service men or Service women on a frequent basis out of the 200,000 or whatever it is attend a service?
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) I could not begin to answer that.

  1087. Have you any idea of that at all?
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) No, I have no idea at all.

  Mr Davies: I am surprised.

  Chairman: I did raise that issue in Kosovo with the chaplains.

Mr Davies

  1088. We asked one individual chaplain, I am trying to see if the figures are aggregated but obviously they are not.
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) No.

  Mr Davies: I think that is a very revealing answer.

Mr Keetch

  1089. Chaplain-General, can I ask you a more practical question, if I can. We have seen as we have gone round one of the major concerns is the state of their living conditions, married quarters, single quarters, they really are, in some cases, quite appalling. We have seen good ones and bad ones, not many good ones but degrees of bad ones. Can you explain to us how Service chaplains are housed? Do they live with the officers? Can you just explain the practicalities?
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) Most chaplains, whether they are single or married, would be housed in Service families' accommodation. I think that is, especially with regard to the single chaplains, for one very important consideration. If somebody wanted to see a chaplain in his own home to preserve the parishioner's privacy to some extent it is far easier to go into a house than for Corporal Bloggins to go into the officers' mess to see the chaplain. Service chaplains would be housed along the same lines as A.N.Other officer. Now this can cause us a certain number of problems because, as I have just outlined, with the age of ordination rising, therefore a chaplain could come into the army bearing the badge of rank, shall we say, of a captain, chaplain to the forces fourth class. He could have three or four teenage children so the normal accommodation given to a young married captain is just not suitable to his family needs and then given, on top of that, that he would, in an ideal world, also like a room away from the family where he could see a Service member of HM Forces who would want to see him in a house. On the whole the Defence Housing Executive understands these needs and I am fairly satisfied that my chaplains are well housed. There will obviously always be cases where they would say "Oh, if only I lived two or three doors up the road it would be so much easier" but for example in 1978 when I went to Hong Kong I was chaplain to the First Battalion of Royal Green Jackets. They gave me a Lieutenant-Colonel's quarter. I then left that and went to Northern Ireland in 1980 to be chaplain to the Second Royal Tank Regiment. There were not enough officers' houses in Lisanelly Camp so for six months I lived alongside sergeants in the regiment. One has to take the rough with the smooth, I am afraid.

  Mr Keetch: I am grateful.

Mr Watts

  1090. We have noted there are different promotions and structures within the different forces for the chaplains. Which is the most helpful and if you were to adopt one system of structures and promotion which one would it be and why?
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) I do not think we can adopt one system. What the Navy do works for them. They say that they bear no badges of rank but they wear an officer's tunic, if you like, and an officer's cap badge. They say their tradition is "Well, the chaplain adopts the rank of the person he is speaking to". I hesitate to wonder what a naval chaplain does when he is addressing God but I will put that to one side for a moment. Clearly working in a ship, in the camp, altogether that works for them. My chaplains work in various different formations. I have never found that wearing badges of rank has ever deterred a soldier from coming to see me. When I was Assistant Chaplain-General in York a young lance-corporal in the Signals came to see me, although I was badged up, as I say, almost like a full colonel. It depends on how the chaplain goes about his business. That is true of any other walk of life, people are approachable or they are not. I hope, in the main, my chaplains are approachable. I always take the view that the rank I seem to carry, I am not a major general, I am a chaplain general, I wear to ensure that I can get an audience which I believe is helpful to Service personnel. It is not a matter of personal adornment, although it may seem that way on occasions, it is a way getting doors open to get things done for Service men and woman. The Navy are the odd ones out, because RAF chaplains and Army chaplains wear what appears to be military rank, but I was commissioned as a chaplain.

Mr Key

  1091. Chaplain-General, you said earlier that you have 32 chaplains at Army training units. I suppose most people think of chaplains taking services on Sundays or at the frontline or out in the field, and so on, but that is only a tiny part of what you do. Can I take you back to Harrogate for a moment, I was in Harrogate last Friday at the Army Foundation College, which, of course, is the successor to the Apprentice College that you knew, and I was astonished to discover that the chaplains are responsible right across the Army for the first introduction to the values and standards of the British Army that come down from the Adjutant General. All our newest soldiers and Service personnel seem to be introduced to it by the chaplaincy. I asked the chaplain for a copy of his syllabus and I was amazed to discover that he was responsible for teaching core values, the values of military life, authority, relationships, moral choices, prejudice, just war, the morality of war and a number of other things. This is a little known facet of the work of the chaplaincy, I wonder if you can explain how important you see it to be as part of the ministry.
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) It is all part of what is called Individual Training Directive 11? My predecessor worked very hard with people in the Director of Personnel Services and others in drawing up that syllabus. When a chaplain delivers that what we are seeking is not so much compliance but trying to establish a baseline of moral formation, which will enable people to make the choices that you have outlined. We think, for example, there is a spiritual dimension which should be brought into any discussion about prejudice. If you take, for example, the theological point that men, and by that I mean men and women, are made in the image of God that should call from us a certain response, which may be different to how other people see it. We are saying if you are made in the image of God are you, therefore, entitled to a certain respect for that. If you take that right across the other spectrums, we talked about selfless commitment, and so on, we as Christian clerics would see that selfless commitment may be seen in the work and the service that Christ gave. What we have also to be sensitive to is that when we do that there may be and, indeed, there more than likely will be people of no faith or other faiths to us, and they have to be respected. When we do it it must not be seen to be done in any way as aggressive proselytism. I think we all have a very useful role to play in this. We are not saying you must do this just because of the law, we are trying to move the discussion on to another plain as well.

  1092. Could I ask finally, this is not a loaded question, are there any female Army chaplains or Service chaplains?
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) Yes, there are three female chaplains in the Royal Navy, regulars, full-time. There is one I believe in the RAF. I have no regular female chaplains, although one is the process of applying. I have three females in the Territorial Army and five in the Army Cadet Force. It would be wrong to say that my chaplaincy does not have female chaplains, it is just that they have been slow in applying. When I was the Deputy Chaplain-General, about 18 months ago, a dear, sweet lady phoned up and said, "I am the Reverend X, Y, Z and I would like to apply for regular Service". My heart leapt for joy, and I said, "What is your interest in this?" She said, "My Daddy was a colonel in the Cavalry". I still leapt for joy. I said, "Madam, how old are you?" She said, "53". I said, "I do not think I can take you on". It was such a shame.

  1093. As someone who is very keen on woman priests, I think they have done a very great service to the Church of England, which is my church, I hope very much we will find a fertile recruitment ground, which will not shock too deeply the officers messes.
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) You might like to know that in the last two adverts I have placed in the Church Times I have made it crystal clear that applications from female clerics would be welcome. I do not have a problem with females coming into the Army whatsoever.


  1094. I am both glad and sad to say that one of the most active local ministers in my constituency left to become a Naval chaplain, we were sorry to lose her, but thought she would go on to do a very good job. Can I thank you very much, indeed, for giving us so much of your time and for the evidence you have given to us. Certainly the points you have made have added to our appreciation of the very important and valuable role Service chaplains make to our Armed Forces. I think all of us feel obliged or certainly would want in the future to ensure that they, perhaps, get a bit more credit and a bit more of a mention than maybe they have had in the past. Thank you very much, indeed, for coming along this afternoon and for all the service you and other Service chaplains provide.
  (The Venerable John Blackburn) Thank you for asking me. Thank you for this opportunity and thank for your concern and support for my chaplains and the chaplains of the other Services.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 19 March 2001