Select Committee on Armed Forces Written Evidence

Memorandum from the Steering Group for a British Armed Forces Federation

  I write on behalf of the Steering Group which has published proposals for a professional staff federation for members of HM Forces. Ours are the proposals which have attracted attention in recent weeks, both in the media and in the Services community.

  We are aware of Lord Drayson's Written Answer to Lord Garden in the Lords about the possibility of serving members of the Armed Forces forming a staff association along the lines of the Police Federation (HL 23 Jan 2006: Column WA143).

  We are also aware from media reports of the responses by the Chief of the Defence Staff to questions about an Armed Forces Federation, in the course of the Bill Committee's evidence session on 16 February. Sir Michael's reported comments appear to have been based on the idea of a trade union which might be prepared to undertake industrial action; he spoke of a foreign contingent temporarily "laying down its arms" while on operations.

  In fact the proposals specifically rule out any question of any kind of industrial action or insubordination in any circumstances. I enclose a summary of the proposals which were published last month as a basis for wide discussion.

  In addition to that important clarification, the purpose of this letter is to offer to give the Bill Committee either oral or written evidence on behalf of the Steering Group. I believe that we are in a position to provide the necessary quality of evidence which the Committee would expect. Incidentally, we also plan to write to the Committee Members individually.


  1.  A professional staff association is to be formed for members of Her Majesty's Forces under the provisional title of the BRITISH ARMED FORCES FEDERATION (BAFF).

  2.  Comparable bodies have for years served the armed forces of allied countries such as the United States and Australia, with official cooperation and no negative impact on operational effectiveness or military discipline. The proposed federation is, however, designed to be a specifically British solution for the British armed forces. It will reflect and respect the ethos and robust traditions of the three fighting services. It will meet all requirements of British military and other law, including international conventions adopted by the United Kingdom.

  3.  The federation's mission shall be to represent, foster and promote the professional, welfare, and other legitimate interests of all members of the federation in their capacity as serving or retired personnel of the fighting services of the United Kingdom, and in so doing help to maximise operational efficiency and improve the retention of trained personnel.

  4.  The federation will be a democratic representative institution answerable to its members. Membership of the federation will be open to all personnel irrespective of rank, branch of service or gender. The main membership categories will be Ordinary Membership (Regular), Ordinary Membership (Reserve Forces) and Veteran Membership. In responding to the requirements of its members, the federation will act in the interests of all serving personnel and veterans but will not countenance any pressure on individuals to join.

  5.  Within resources, the activities of the federation may include:

    (a)  professional and career development by the provision of education and information;

    (b)  liaison, monitoring and response to proposals or developments within the Services, in Parliament, in the provision of public services or in the commercial sector which have a specific impact on forces personnel;

    (c)  appropriate advocacy and consultation to protect and improve the conditions of service life including pay, accommodation, medical and welfare services, resettlement and all other areas of personnel support;

    (d)  appropriate support to personnel facing court martial or other legal proceedings in connection with their service (the federation will not normally comment on any specific case within the systems of military justice and administrative discipline); and

    (e)  the negotiation for members of a range of insurance, financial and other benefits, discounts or affinity deals.

  6.  The federation will not be beholden to any political party, pressure group, or defence industry interest. While supporting the cross-party consensus on the need for robust, adequately-funded but cost-effective forces serving the Nation as determined by the Government of the day, the federation will not be a defence pressure group. The federation will not take a view on matters of defence strategy or operational decisions, although it may raise legitimate subsidiary matters affecting personnel. Parliamentary liaison will be strictly on a cross-party basis.

  7.  The federation will not be a trade union and, above all, it will not conduct or condone any form of industrial action or insubordination within the armed forces. The federation affirms the vital role of the Armed Forces chain of command in representing the interests of its personnel. The federation will seek to agree with the Ministry of Defence appropriate mechanisms for the exchange of information with the chain of command as well as centrally. A code of conduct will be adopted, and potential disagreements will normally be raised centrally to avoid placing serving personnel in difficulty with their chain of command, or vice versa. The federation will act to protect serving members in their federation-related activities within the agreed code of conduct.

  8.  The federation will not seek to supplant the role of any existing charity or other agency involved in service welfare. Where appropriate the federation may help to direct members to appropriate sources of advice or assistance.

  9.  Work is already under way on matters such as the structure and legal format of the federation, and staffing. A business plan is being prepared.

  10.  This draft statement of intent outlines the basic principles established so far. Work continues on detailed aspects of the proposals with a view to wider consultation throughout the armed forces community, and with the Ministry of Defence.

February 2006

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