Select Committee on Defence Second Report


The Working Environment


111. Leadership and teamwork are important in any organisation. Given the unique demands of operational effectiveness, they have a special importance in the Armed Forces, and they are therefore underlined and reinforced by military ethos and discipline. The ethos of the British Army is defined as—

In operations, when lives depend on it, commanders need to have confidence that orders will be carried out; team cohesion must be assured; and all personnel must be able to trust their colleagues. In extreme circumstances, personnel may be required to die on behalf of others: 'military discipline possesses its unique character precisely for that reason'.[203] Service men and women must be ready to deploy at any time, and so there must be the same discipline system in peace as in war.

112. Many of the personnel whom we met during our visits, both officers and other ranks, believed that discipline standards had slackened since they joined the Services; and this was a view heard even from people who had joined as recently as five years ago. Some expressed the view that recruits were 'wrapped in cotton wool' these days and that those who could not tolerate military discipline should be weeded out in initial training, but they believed that this was not done because the Services could not afford to lose any recruits. One experienced NCO told us that in his view, although operational effectiveness was not affected at present, young soldiers were on a much steeper learning curve when they were deployed, because the training they did on Salisbury Plain no longer replicated what they were likely to experience in the field. Some believed the situation was compounded by the limitations on training activities imposed by health and safety and other employment legislation.

113. The Minister for the Armed Forces told us that for many young people going into the Services 'provides structure in their lives for the first time ... And it is actually hugely beneficial'.[204] DCDS (Personnel) said that the Services accepted the need to examine and justify discipline standards—

    One of the things we have done very carefully recently is to re-establish the need for that discipline and that structure within an armed Service and therefore we are able to convince these individuals through training programmes that this is not just because the Armed Forces have a disciplinary code and process, it is there by virtue of need in its employment terms.

But he assured us that 'we are not reducing the standards where they are necessary'.[205] A senior officer told us informally that disciplinary matters which affect operational effectiveness, such as lateness, are very strictly enforced but that account has to be taken of the greater transition which joining the Services now represents for young people compared with previous generations. The Adjutant General's view was that soldiers should be allowed to live their own lives to the maximum degree within the requirements which the Army made of them.[206] The Director General of ATRA told us that he was amazed at how well young people responded to the change in environment which they experienced in initial training: on the whole they liked the discipline and teamwork and 'once you motivate them they are incredibly responsive to the sort of training that we are giving them'.[207] The naval viewpoint was similar—

    The nature of our training has had to change to reflect the different types of recruits that we now get. They come from a different society, as you have said, a different education system, they have different expectations ... We have still got discipline, we are still trying to get self-discipline into them and team work, this sense of corporate identity and a sense of belonging ... They have different expectations but on the whole they are basically just looking for the framework and the Armed Forces in many respects provides that framework very well.[208]

114. Professor Dandeker's view on change in military ethos was that—

    ... there are some changes in society to which it is in the interests of the military to conform. There are some changes in society which are not helpful to its ethos and some which are positively unhelpful to the ethos. However, not every social change should necessarily be seen as undermining the ethos of the armed services ... insofar as the younger generation become more questioning, become more self-reliant, become more effective in using new technologies, that is something which the armed services will embrace. Along with that may come a more questioning view of hierarchy and 'why should we be doing this'; which may undermine elements of traditional military ethos, but may actually be used to transform the military ethos in a way which helps the armed services in terms of the issues they face in the 21st century.[209]

The MoD acknowledges that a balance needs to be struck between meeting the unique demands which are placed on Service personnel and the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled as citizens—

    There is a risk that if what the Services expect becomes entirely divorced from the expectations of society, they will lose the legitimacy and support that is vital to their existence.[210]

As a result of various challenges which the UK government has faced and lost in the European Court of Human Rights, the military discipline system has been amended, most recently in the Armed Forces Discipline Act, which came into force at the same time as the Human Rights Act on 2 October 2000, and on which we commented during its passage through the House.[211] Our colleagues on the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill are considering further changes to military discipline which arise in the quinquennial Armed Forces Bill, and we await their findings with interest.

115. We agree with Professor Dandeker that not every change in ethos necessarily leads to damaged operational effectiveness; a more questioning attitude to authority can be a positive factor if it means that as a result personnel are more committed and motivated and that they are able to think on their feet and assess the consequences of tactical decisions and actions.[212] Self-discipline combined with respect for authority remain the cornerstone of Service ethos. The balance to be struck in preserving this, whilst continuing to attract and retain people from today's less disciplined society, is a very delicate one which the Services and the MoD need to keep under constant review. At the moment we believe an appropriate balance has been struck between the demands of service discipline and the need to recognise individual rights. But the policy attracts scepticism and resistance from critics on both sides of the question. It needs to be sold positively, rather than presented as a series of reluctant concessions.


116. Any organisation which wishes to operate effectively needs to have well-trained leaders. This is clearly vital when lives and national security are at stake. When taking part in operations, personnel must have complete confidence in their commanding officers. But leadership in war is not the same as the leadership needed in peace—and this is a dilemma for the Armed Forces. In order to be a good employer and to provide personnel with a working life which they regard as reasonable, the Armed Forces' commanding officers must also manage those for whom they are responsible properly. That this is an issue which affects retention rates was demonstrated by a major study into retention in the Army, commissioned by the MoD.[213] This concluded that improvements in leadership and management were the factors which would make the biggest single difference to retention in the Army. The Adjutant General described the study's findings on leadership skills with admirable simplicity—

    Whilst the young commander was extremely good at charging up hills and performing the tactics, he was considerably less good at looking after the 36 people in his platoon in terms of their career management.[214]

117. In our own informal discussions with personnel, other ranks told us that they did not always feel commanding officers knew enough about their career prospects and terms and conditions of service to enable them to offer valid advice. This is particularly the case for young officers dealing with other ranks who have much more experience. Officers themselves felt that they were being asked to deal with an increasing amount of paperwork, particularly on such initiatives as Investors in People; and that the overwhelming focus of their training was concerned with their principal skill function rather than personnel management skills. This is an area which the Defence Training Review is looking at.[215] In looking at people management skills, the Training Review will need to examine the balance between management tasks and more direct operational skills. The former are important, but should not be allowed to squeeze out the latter.

118. The Army has taken up the specific criticisms of the retention study and some changes have already been made. The initial officer training course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst has been modified to provide elements on personnel management skills, although the Commandant told us that 'the majority of cadets at Sandhurst do not even see a soldier until they arrive in their battalions'.[216] As a result of the findings of the retention study, the personnel management element of the next stage of officer training, known as the Army Junior Division, carried out at the Joint Services Command and Staff College (JSCSC), has been increased from three days to a week, out of a 14-week course.[217] Some practical steps have also been taken, such as issuing young officers joining their regiments after Sandhurst with information packs on which they can draw when dealing with queries from their soldiers.[218]

119. The Commandant of Britannia Royal Naval College told us that the College had become aware of gaps in the personnel aspects of leadership skills arising from the focus on operational leadership and that there is now a one-week module specifically on personnel management, including a day on counselling. Officer cadets in their third term are given responsibility for supervising the new intake to help develop management and counselling skills.[219] The Commandant of RAF College Cranwell told us that the length of the RAF initial officer training course is being reviewed. It is currently 24 weeks, having been increased from 18 weeks in 1992, but is still shorter than in the other two Services because of the greater emphasis in the RAF on subsequent professional training. The Commandant felt that the course could be extended to as much as 30 weeks, but this awaited the findings of the Defence Training Review.[220] Following a review in 1998, changes in the current course content have been made to provide a greater focus on effective teamwork and managing people.[221] In all three Services subsequent professional training in personnel management skills is provided at the JSCSC.[222]

120. Personnel management is an area in which the Services need to develop if they are to provide a working environment which meets the demands of today's employees. This has been demonstrated to be an issue which the Services cannot ignore. We welcome the Services' acceptance that change is necessary and expect to see evidence of a more professional approach to managing people.


121. The AFOPS's goal is 'a working environment free from harassment, intimidation and unlawful discrimination, in which all have equal opportunity ... to realise their full potential'.[223] If the Services wish to retain the right people in the right numbers, they must provide that environment. It would be naive to suppose that, whatever steps the Services take, they can completely eradicate racist or sexist views or other unacceptable demonstrations of prejudice (although we believe such behaviour is no more characteristic of the Services than of society in general). What the Services can do, however, is eradicate the negative effects of such unacceptable views by ensuring that behaviour is of an acceptable standard. The Armed Forces are particularly well-placed to do this given their emphasis on discipline and 'top down' command structure.

122. The CRE's formal investigation of the Household Cavalry in 1996 (discussed at some length in the report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill in 1996)[224] found that there was direct and indirect discrimination in recruitment and selection of both officers and soldiers; instructions or inducements to discrimination; and abuse and harassment of ethnic minority soldiers. These very serious findings led to the MoD and the CRE agreeing first an Action Plan and then a Partnership Agreement in relation to equal opportunities and discrimination.[225] The Partnership Agreement, which began in 1998 for a five-year period, identified a series of measures to be implemented by the MoD to: improve recruitment and retention rates; increase the number and level of officers from ethnic minorities; take effective action against racial discrimination; and to ensure monitoring was carried out.[226]

123. MoD policy on racial harassment is unequivocal—

    The Armed Forces have made it absolutely clear, through statements by Ministers and senior Service personnel, policy documents and leaflets, that any form of harassment or discrimination, including racial or sexual harassment or discrimination is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. We want senior managers to confront prejudice and act decisively to remove it. Strong leadership is required from all personnel to create an organisational culture which welcomes and promotes diversity.[227]

DCDS (Personnel) reiterated in oral evidence that the Services have 'declared war on racism' and that there is a policy of zero tolerance towards it.[228] A key factor in delivering the policy is training. The Tri-Service Equal Opportunities Training Centre, opened in Shrivenham in September 1998, provides training for senior officers and equal opportunities advisers. There is a tri-Service equal opportunities goal set out in the AFOPS and each Service has equal opportunities directives and action plans.

124. The EOC say that, despite what they regard as 'comprehensive' sexual harassment policies, the culture of the Services still acts to dissuade women from making complaints when harassment does occur, for fear of damaging their own or others' careers and disrupting team morale.[229] It is important that women personnel feel able to express their concerns and that the Services use all means available to gather accurate information about how and where incidents occur. The EOC welcomed the Army's initiative in setting up focus groups to enable men and women to discuss equality and harassment issues informally.[230]

125. Confidential helplines have been set up in all three Services, giving all personnel access to advice on any matter of concern. SSAFA, which runs the Army's helpline, said that, although it was difficult to be accurate, about 25 per cent of calls were concerned with the broad category of 'bullying' within which some element would be related to sexual or racial harassment.[231] We believe such helplines are a very valuable resource and help people to deal with difficult situations without necessarily resorting to formal complaints procedures. However, if the Services are to deliver a valid equal opportunities policy, it is crucial that when formal complaints are made about racial, sexual or any other sort of harassment, they are dealt with reasonably, swiftly and effectively.

126. The EOC told us—

    Regrettably, the majority of the women who come to us are women who are about to leave or who have left the Armed Services. That suggests to us that the culture prevailing in the Armed Services is one that is not conducive to them making a complaint while they are in there and expecting it to be dealt with. What is required is a culture that supports the complainant and deals with their complaint swiftly and speedily. The longer it continues the worse it becomes.[232]

However, this evidence may also suggest that the women who do not go to the EOC are those who prefer to deal with problems themselves, while remaining in the Forces. While we do not wish to promote a 'culture of complaint', the MoD accepts that 'incidents of harassment are still occurring, and that complaints are not always felt to have been satisfactorily resolved'. It has assured us that they are not complacent about this and that they have work in hand to establish performance indicators to assess the effectiveness of equal opportunities in practice.[233] It is all very well to have policies on such issues—but you have to walk the talk. The EOC believe that the key to dealing with harassment effectively is leadership—

    If you have leadership it is clear that this sort of behaviour is not tolerated ... It gives a very clear statement of the vision for that team to the people who are serving and makes it absolutely clear where the line is drawn and things can be dealt with. Leadership is a critical factor in making sure women are able to come forward.[234]

127. The Commission for Racial Equality agreed that the part played by the chain of command in influencing equal opportunities was crucial, as demonstrated by the success with which the Household Cavalry has, since 1996, turned its race relations round from one of the worst examples to one of the best.[235] The CRE agreed with the EOC that there was a reluctance to complain formally because of fear of the effects on careers, and they were concerned about the time taken to process complaints. In the Armed Forces those alleging racial discrimination must first take their case through the internal Service discipline procedures, which can take one to three years. They also have access to employment tribunals but this process does not generally begin until the internal procedures have been concluded. The CRE believes Service personnel should have the right to complain directly to employment tribunals.

128. We believe the Services have made great strides in changing their working environment to one where all members of society can expect to feel welcome. But there is no room for complacency: regrettable incidents of racial and sexual harassment and other forms of bullying are still occurring and efforts to eradicate these must continue. We recommend the MoD takes full account of the views of the EOC and the CRE in working towards an effective equal opportunities policy which will meet the high standards which the Services have set themselves. The MoD should demonstrate its commitment to a harassment free working environment by ensuring that there is no display of material which may either be seen as offensive to women or of a racist nature, in any public areas on any of its premises or that of its agencies.


129. Following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in September 1999, the Armed Forces' policy on homosexuality was judged by the MoD to be no longer sustainable. In the following January, the Secretary of State announced that an admission of homosexuality would no longer prevent people serving the Armed Forces, and a code of social conduct was introduced to regulate the behaviour of all individuals. The test of whether personal behaviour was appropriate to military service is now based on a commanding officer's assessment of whether an individual's actions are likely to adversely impact on operational effectiveness.

130. The new policy has been kept under review since its inception; the Services were invited to make an initial report on any effects arising from its implementation in August. All three Services reported that the revised policy had had 'no discernible impact, either positive or negative' on recruitment and that it had been well-received by serving personnel despite some initial misgivings.[236] Professor Strachan's view was that—

    The homosexuality issue is a classic illustration of how the Ministry of Defence can get it wrong and then put it right ... I could never understand why it was not possible to treat much of this issue in many of the other ways that they have already handled issues to do with gender, sexual harassment and so on. Having adopted a policy which effectively does that, which is what the armed services have now done, by and large they have now got it right.

Both he and Professor Dandeker thought the MoD should learn from this and become more proactive in their response to social trends, rather than waiting to be forced into change by legal rulings which meant the Services did not then get the credit for the sensible and effective policies they adopted.[237] We agree. We are pleased that the introduction of the new code of social conduct so far appears to have caused no problems and look forward to receiving further results of the MoD's ongoing monitoring. It is important that the Services look ahead to anticipate problems of this kind and how they wish to respond, rather than being forced into action by outside authorities. In the case of homosexuality, the Services may have found a policy which proves to be acceptable to the majority of Service personnel.

202  Values and Standards of the British Army, Commanders' Edition, March 2000, p 5 Back

203  Ev p 26 Back

204  QQ 723-724 Back

205  Q 725 Back

206  Q 319 Back

207  Q 685 Back

208  Q 688 Back

209  Q 4 Back

210  Ev p 26, para 1.3 Back

211  Fourth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1999-2000, Armed Forces Discipline Bill [Lords], HC 253 Back

212  QQ 25, 31-32 Back

213  See Ev p 39, para 18.6. Back

214  Q 315 Back

215  QQ 407, 412-413 Back

216  QQ 440, 455 Back

217  Q 441 Back

218  Q 315 Back

219  Q 448; Ev p 29, paras 6.1-6.5 Back

220  QQ 443-444; see also QQ 362-363 Back

221  Ev p 29, para 6.9 Back

222  Q 439 Back

223  AFOPS, p 44 Back

224  Special Report from the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Session 1995-96, HC 143, paras 25-29 Back

225  Ev pp 90-91 Back

226  The Action Plan and the Partnership Agreement are set out in full at Ev pp 98-104 Back

227  Ev p 32, para 10.1 Back

228  Q 92 Back

229  Ev p 76, para 5.2.3 Back

230  Ev p 77, para 5.2.5 and Q 196 Back

231  Ev p 33, para 10.5; QQ 558-562 Back

232  Q 203 Back

233  Ev p 33 paras 10.7-10.11 Back

234  Q 203 Back

235  QQ 213, 246; Ev p 92 Back

236  Ev pp 239-240 Back

237  Q 65 Back

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