Select Committee on Defence First Report


Letter to the Chairman from the Secretary of State for Defence

I think we all support the idea that there is some overlap of membership between the Defence Select Committee and the ad hoc select committee that will consider the Bill. But I thought it would be helpful to set out how the Bill reflects our thinking on two matters on which your predecessor committee made specific recommendations in their reports published in March this year, namely the redress of complaints procedure and renewal of Service law.

There are several models for introducing an independent element to the wider complaints system. An independent complaints body, or Ombusdman, is one of several possible models. Our aim is to have a complaints system that is right for the way our Armed Forces operate: that is fair, transparent, effective and prompt, and in which both the chain of command and the individual Service person can have confidence. We are considering the most appropriate way forward. You will see in the Armed Forces Bill provision for a redress panel that will consider complaints on behalf of the Defence Council, and which, it is intended, will speed up the complaints process. The panel will comprise a minimum of two members. It will always include a senior officer and may also include a civil servant. The panel will be independent of the chain of command. But the Bill provides for membership of the panel to include also, for complaints of a specified nature, an independent, external member. We see this approach being perhaps particularly relevant when the panel is considering complaints that relate to bullying and harassment.

Outside the Bill, we anticipate a range of further measures to improve the complaints process particularly in relation to bullying and harassment. We have yet to take final decisions on the overall package of measures under consideration but I shall of course ensure that we share our proposals with your Committee as soon as we are in a position to do so.

On the second issue the Bill provides as a starting position for Service law to remain subject to renewal on a five yearly basis by primary legislation, but not for annual renewal by Order in Council. On consideration we were not attracted to more frequent renewal by primary legislation as your predecessor committee proposed. But we recognise this might be a matter where the select committee will want to come to its own view when it looks at the Bill as a whole. We have not closed our mind on this issue and look forward to engaging proactively with the select committee at the appropriate time.

2 December 2005

previous page contents next page

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 8 December 2005