Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from Dr Alex Alexandrou


  I would like to thank the Defence Committee for inviting me to give evidence to this much needed inquiry. I have become increasingly concerned with recent developments that I believe have impacted negatively on both the Military Covenant and the Armed Forces ability to retain key personnel. Britain's participation in both Afghanistan and Iraq have brought these matters to a head but the problems are more deep seated and have been threatening to undermine the commitment, morale, motivation and the retention of personnel for a number of years.

  The past decade has increasingly seen the "dirty washing" of the Armed Forces done in public ranging from any number of disciplinary matters and employment tribunals to issues of manning, deployment, compensation for injuries received whilst on active duty, the standard of housing and equipment and how far senior military personnel can go with their political masters. To an extent this has destabilised the Armed Forces and it is my belief that a significant number of issues could and should have been dealt with "in-house".

  Thus, with this in mind I would like to put forward a proposal that in my opinion will in part help the Armed Forces deal with these issues, particularly retention in a positive manner. I propose that this is achieved by the creation of a representative body for military personnel that is governed by statute and has the best interests of both the forces and their personnel in mind.


  There have been significant developments in relation to the issue of the creation of a representative organisation for British military personnel particularly from a legislative and non-legislative perspective. I will not rehearse these arguments in full in this submission but suffice to say that as I have proved in an article for the academic journal Defence Studies, that British and European legislation does not expressly forbid military personnel from having a representative organisation and there is a legal obligation for them to have one in relation to both the Human Rights Act 1998 and European Directive 94/45/EC that deals with European Works Councils. Bartle (2006) also provides significant non-legal arguments as to why military personnel require a representative body from both a national and international perspective.

  However, I would argue that these academic and legal arguments have been overtaken by recent events that have seen the establishment and proliferation of bodies that claim to represent the views of British military personnel. In 2003, the Combined Armed Forces Federation (CAFF) was set up. Membership is open to all ranks but CAFF is essentially there to represent the interests of all other ranks. Officers can join CAFF but they are barred by the Federation from becoming members of its Executive and Management Committees. In 2006, the British Armed Forces Federation (BAFF) was officially launched and is a representative body for serving and past members of all the armed services and is open to all ranks, both in terms of membership and serving on its Executive Council. It has produced a Ten-Point Plan (BAFF, 2006) which explains its aims, objectives and how it is structured. I will return to this plan in a latter section of this submission.

  Significantly, CAFF is currently in dispute with BAFF, which it regards as an organisation that has no legitimacy amongst the other ranks. It basically argues that CAFF should represent the other ranks and BAFF should only represent officers.

  To add to the mix both these groups are now under pressure from the United Kingdom Defence Association (UKNDA) that was set up in 2007 by an esteemed group of politicians and recently retired senior military chiefs. The UKNDA has been set up to lobby for more resources (financial and otherwise), better accommodation and better health care for Armed Services personnel. This is in direct competition to both CAFF and BAFF and it seems that this organisation is better funded and structured than both federations and more powerful in terms of the individuals who run it. Its President is Winston S Churchill and its Patrons are Admiral Lord Boyce, Air Marshal Lord Craig, General Lord Guthrie, Sir Menzies Campbell and Lord Owen. Its Vice-Presidents include such colourful and famous characters such as Colonel Tim Collins, Major-General Patrick Cordingley, Professor Richard Holmes, Colonel Bob Stewart, Simon Weston, Bruce George and Michael Ancram to name but a few. So if nothing else this will be a powerful lobbying group with the know-how and personnel to get to the heart of government and get issues stirred up.

  In representative terms this is all getting quite messy and this may suit the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as "divide and rule" may mean that it will not have to go down the road of helping to legitimise a representative body in terms of supporting a legally constituted organisation. To a degree it has been further helped by the fact that a Private Members Bill presented by Kevan Jones (Labour MP for North Durham) entitled Armed Forces (Federation) Bill which called for a federation to be created based on the BAFF Ten-Point Plan failed to get its Second Reading in October 2007. Interestingly (and obviously) BAFF supported this Bill, whilst CAFF did not. CAFF even went as far as petitioning MPs not to lend their support to this Bill.

  These are interesting times for the representation of Armed Services personnel as not only do we have the three above mentioned groups we also have the Commonwealth Soldiers Association and a number of other charitable and specific lobbying groups who also claim to be the voice of Armed Forces personnel. These include the British Legion, the Army, Navy and RAF Benevolent Funds, the three Service Families' Federations, Combat Stress and the Gulf Veterans' Association to name but a few.

  In addition to which there are any number of websites that carry the views of military personnel, with one of the most publicly quoted being the British Army Rumour Service. Significantly, the key fact is that not one of these groups or websites have been either elected or selected by the overwhelming majority of serving military personnel to represent their interests within the MoD, Parliament and wider society. This is not to say that these organisations and the individuals who have set them up and run them are not well-meaning and well-intentioned. However, they do not have an official mandate from those who matter most—current serving military personnel and they are not underpinned and supported by primary legislation.


  It may be argued by both the MoD and senior military leaders that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) represents the interests and views of military personnel in relation to what are commonly referred to as terms and conditions of employment. I would argue that this is a weak argument as I hope to prove in the next few paragraphs.

  The Review Body's terms of reference as laid out by its Thirty Seventh Report 2008 presented to Parliament in February of this year are as follows:

    "The Armed Forces' Pay Review Body provides independent advice to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence on the remuneration and charges for members of the Naval, military and Air Forces of the Crown.

    In reaching its recommendations, the Review Body is to have regard to the following considerations:

      —  the need to recruit, retain and motivate suitably qualified people taking account of the particular circumstances of Service life;

      —  Government policies for improving public services, including the requirement of the Ministry of Defence to meet output targets for the delivery of departmental services;

      —  The funds available to the Ministry of Defence as set out in the Government's departmental limits; and

      —  The Government's inflation target.

    The Review Body shall have regard for the need for the pay of the Armed Forces to be broadly comparable with pay levels in civilian life.

    The Review Body shall, in reaching its recommendations, take account of the evidence submitted to it by the Government and others. The Review Body may also consider other specific issues as the occasion arises.

    Reports and recommendations should be submitted jointly to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister" (AFPRB, 2008: iii).

  I contend that as the terms of reference are laid out above, the AFPRB is constrained by Government strategy, particularly in relation to finance and there are other problems that in my view are detrimental in relation to looking after the interests of military personnel from an independent standpoint.

  The most fundamental problem relates to the parties selected to provide information to the Review Body. They are limited and unrepresentative as the following quote from this year's report clearly highlights:

    "Our work programme began in March 2007 with full briefings from MoD and each of the Services on the issues relevant to our review. These briefings set the scene for our visits programme which enables us to engage with personnel and families, to hear their priorities first hand, to understand the role of the military and to explain our approach. We visited 25 Service units between March and July 2007 in the UK, Germany, Gibraltar and on operations in Afghanistan. We met with around 3,800 spouses in 300 formal and informal discussion groups. Our visits also enabled to hear the views of Commanding Officers and their management teams and to view all standards of Service accommodation. All Services provided excellent support throughout these visits and, in the current operational climate, we cannot over-emphasise the importance of our operational visits to gain an understanding of the frontline role of the Armed Forces and to enable us to deliver our remit...

    ...We held 11 meetings between September 2007 and January 2008 to consider the evidence presented and our commissioned research. We reviewed over 130 evidence papers and held six oral evidence sessions which allowed us to test out the written evidence. These sessions were with the Secretary of State accompanied by MOD's 2nd Permanent Under Secretary and HM Treasury; the Principal Personnel Officers (PPOs0 and Deputy Chief of defence Staff (Personnel); the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Reserves and Cadets) and the Director of Reserve Forces and Cadets; and the Deputy Chief Executive of Defence Estates. We also helpfully met with the three Service Families' Federations, specifically focusing on the review of the X-Factor" (AFPRB, 2008: 4).

  Laudable as this approach is, I would argue it clearly shows that a collective voice for military personnel should be heard by the Review Body as well. The fact that stands out from the Review Body's explanation as to how it gathers its evidence is that while the management of each service and the MoD give oral and written evidence to the AFPRB, military personnel are not afforded the same right. A very small minority (which does not even equate to 2% of all armed forces personnel), not all of whom are serving personnel; receive a "visit" where they are "talked with" both formally and worryingly informally. The question is how representative can their views be and how are they chosen? To independent observers such as myself, this approach does not encourage confidence as to the credibility of the evidence being gathered as there is a distinct possibility that it is skewed to ensure both political and military leaders are happy with the outcome and the voice of those who matter the most—military personnel is barely heard.

  This is clearly inequitable and further underlines the need for a collective body that can adequately represent the views of all personnel. It could also represent the views of personnel in such a way that ensures that issues are discussed within the structures and system of the MoD and not in public via the media. I contend that such an approach is not only feasible but will have a positive impact on the morale and retention of Armed Forces personnel. Additionally, I believe it is a good recruitment and retention tool as firstly, not only will the voice of military personnel be heard but negative issues will not be aired in public which can affect not only those serving, possibly leading them to question their continuing involvement with the Armed Forces. Secondly, it can also help to ensure that for example, negative issues relating to the treatment of military trainees, sub-standard housing and inadequate equipment are dealt with in-house. As which parent would want their child to join an organisation that is routinely criticised within the media and cannot be trusted to look after their loved ones who are prepared to put their lives at risk?

  The membership of the Review Body also highlights a further inadequacy. The current membership of the AFPRB is as follows: Professor David Greenway (Chairman), Robert Burgin, Alison Gallico, Dr Peter Knight, Professor Derek Leslie, Air Vice Marshal (Retired) Ian Stewart, Dr Anne Wright and Lord Young of Norwood Green (AFPRB, 2008: iii). As the website of the Office of Manpower Economics (which also acts as the Secretariat for the Review Body) shows in relation to the biographies of those listed only one of them has served in the military and there is currently not one person who is serving in the Armed Forces representing the views of military personnel. Yet again, I would argue that this is a serious anomaly that needs to be rectified in favour of current serving military personnel.


  I would argue that the only way forward is by the creation of a representative organisation by statute that will work in the best interests of military personnel, the Armed Forces and the MoD. A precedent was set in the previous century in relation to the Police Service. The Police Act 1919 helped to create the Police Federation of England and Wales that would represent the interests of police officers, particularly in terms of welfare and the efficiency of the Police Service. It is not a trade union but a staff association.

  The Federation today represents the interests of almost 140,000 police officers, who hold the rank of Constable, Sergeant, Inspector and Chief Inspector. It negotiates on terms and conditions of employment; lobbies on issues that will not only affect its members but which will also impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Police Service and is also consulted on police regulations. I would argue that the Federation along with the other Police staff associations do a good job in representing the interests of their members within the structures and systems of the Police Service and the ministries that have overall control of the Service. Rarely, are issues brought into the public domain by the Police staff associations and when they are it is only when all internal avenues and procedures have been exhausted.

  Similar organisations exist for the Superintendent and senior ranks in the form of the Police Superintendents' Association (PSA) and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). This template is replicated in both Northern Ireland and in Scotland.


  The lack of a collective representative body currently in my view currently impacts negatively on the morale, commitment and ultimately on the retention of high quality military personnel at all levels. This can be witnessed by the almost daily deluge of negative press the Armed Forces attract either in relation to their current operations to issues of housing, equipment, length of tours, overstretch, compensation for injuries whilst on active service and military personnel and/or their families pursuing high profile cases against the MoD and the three Services.

  I am not advocating that the Armed Forces replicate the representative structures of the Police Service but what should be copied is the creation of a representative structure made up of one or more bodies that is enshrined in statute and as with the Police Service forbids any form of industrial action.

  As noted above, a number of bodies purporting to represent the interests of Armed Forces personnel have been set up recently. Most notably BAFF, which has its own constitution and structures that have been constructed in accordance with civilian-based legislation. It has also produced the following Ten-Point plan which was originally posted on the British Army Rumour website in January 2006 before BAFF set up its own website. BAFF proposed the following:

    "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 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 or 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 and 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".

  I would argue that this is a good basis to begin discussions in relation to setting up a body or bodies to represent current serving military personnel. I would argue that if collective representation is afforded to military personnel then there is a need for a number of bodies to be created that will be able to effectively represent the interests of the three Services. They would also represent the interests of the other ranks and officers within each of the Armed Forces, particularly taking into account their individual traditions, ethos and needs.

  As a basis for discussion I propose that each of the three Services should have three main representative bodies. The first would represent the interests of the other ranks. The second would represent the ranks of (Army) Lieutenant (and similar ranks in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force) up to (Army) Major (and similar ranks in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force). The third would represent the ranks of (Army) Lieutenant-Colonel (and similar ranks in the Royal Navy and Royal) up to (Army) Brigadier (and similar ranks in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force). Finally, there should be one sole representative body for the most senior ranks in all three Services akin to ACPO.

  Each of these representative organisations would require not only a constitution and set of rules and procedures but would also have to be organised at local, regional and national level in such a way that they replicate the organisational structures of their individual Service. The membership of these organisations would be restricted to currently serving military personnel.

  Each of the representative bodies will have a ruling body in the form of a National Executive Committee (NEC) with its key office bearers being the Chair, Secretary and Treasurer. All key office holders and committee members will be elected only by its membership.

  The representative organisations should not become a financial drain on the MoD, so they should be allowed to raise monies by charging the membership an annual subscription as most representative bodies and trade unions do.

  All the representative bodies would be set up and governed by primary legislation and this legislation will also ensure that military personnel will not be allowed to take any form of industrial action.

  The above suggestion is at this juncture a framework for discussion and is put forward to initiate a serious debate as my observations, research and working with the British Armed Forces for the past decade lead me to conclude that collective representation for current serving military personnel will have a positive effect, particularly in relation to morale and retention which have undeniably been negatively affected in recent years.


Alexandrou, A (2004) Creating a Collective Representative Body for British Military Personnel through European Community Law, in Defence Studies, Volume 4, Number 1, Spring, pp 114-130.

Armed Forces Pay Review Body (2008) Thirty-Seventh Report 2008. London: The Stationery Office.

Bartle, R (2006) The British Armed Forces: No Trust, No Representation, No Change in Military Unionism in the Post-Cold War Era: A Future Reality?, Bartle, R and Heinecken, L (eds). London: Routledge.

British Armed Forces Federation (2006) Ten-Point Plan. available at

17 March 2008

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