Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-419)|
MP AND VICE
20 MAY 2008
Q400 Richard Younger-Ross: How far
are you reviewing the allowances to see what allowances are necessary,
because the report had a number of views from personnel about
what they thought the allowances ought to come to? I will give
you some examplesincreasing net pay to those on operations,
improving child care to help spouses deal with the effects of
disruption, improving moving allowances.
Vice Admiral Wilkinson: All these
are covered annually in what used to be the Single Service Attitude
Surveys and we are now awaiting the results of the first Armed
Forces Continuous Attitude Survey.
Q401 Richard Younger-Ross: So there
is another study that will say everything is fine?
Derek Twigg: It is not a case
of "everything is fine". It has not been raised with
us as being a major issue. It clearly is an issue for some people.
In terms of knowing what you are entitled to, I think we have
recognised that and we have demonstrated that we want to try and
improve that recognition, but, as a number of Service people have
said to me, they tend to be pretty good at finding out what allowances
they should be entitled to. That is not being complacent because
some people will have problems and that is why we recognise that
and the ready-reckoner is one way of improving that.
Q402 Mr Jones: Dr Alex Alexandrou,
when he gave evidence to us, argued that the military personnel
need a body to represent their views, and, as you know, I have
a third attempt, I think it is, with my Ten-Minute Rule Bill and
my amendment to the Armed Forces Bill calling for a federation.
Increasingly you are getting a lot of organisations of former
senior military personnel claiming to speak on behalf of the Armed
Forces. Why is the MoD so against an Armed Forces federation?
Derek Twigg: I will answer it
first and I think it is worth your hearing from Admiral Wilkinson
as a serving officer as well. First of all, we do not see the
need for it. There are a number of reasons for that. We feel that
in terms of the Chain of Command it is very important that issues
are dealt with by that process, particularly around welfare issues.
As for the changes in terms of redress, which you know yourself
from the Armed Forces Bill and you probably know the detail even
better than I do, the Service Complaints Commissioner has been
put in place.
Q403 Mr Jones: You were dragged screaming
and kicking to introduce that. That was not easy.
Derek Twigg: Whatever the perception
was, and I accept collective responsibilityI was not around
at that particular time but I did the last bit of the BillI
thought there was a lot of support ministerially to do that. That
is another area which would mitigate against doing what you are
asking for. We have not seen any great groundswell of opinion
from Armed Forces personnel that this is what they want. The current
organisation has about 200 members. Unless I am mistaken, that
has not increased significantly, but also I have to say that Service
personnel write to me if they have issues, so they have access
to ministers. I deal with correspondence with individuals on a
range of issues that they may have concerns about. For those reasons
I am not sure that I see the benefit over and above what that
this would bring. I know you feel very strongly about but I do
not know whether Admiral Wilkinson wants to add something to that.
Vice Admiral Wilkinson: I agree
that certainly representing the wellbeing and welfare of the people
under your command is a vital function for the Chain of Command.
I am also strongly of the opinion that there are a number of mechanisms
and routes whereby people can make representations or state a
complaint all the way up to the Defence Council if necessary.
Q404 Mr Jones: Come on; there are
very few who do that. We took evidence on the Armed Forces Bill.
It is a handful, is it not, because they never get that far?
Vice Admiral Wilkinson: We can
give you the number, sir, I am sure, if you would like us to.
Certainly in my own career I have complained at least three times
officially. The lightning conductors are there, the individual
briefing teams that the Services operate. The Armed Forces Pay
Review Board takes a lot of information from Service men and women.
There are the attitude surveys, the spouses' attitude surveys.
As the Minister says, a lot of families and dependants write to
him. People can join societies, trade organisations that represent
their particular career interests. There is any number of outlets
for them to discuss or raise issues of difficulty. I think we
just have to be cognisant of whether this would strike at some
of the areas of ethos that the Services have.
Q405 Mr Jones: I know why the Chain
of Command do not want it, but it was good enough, for example,
for most of our major allies, including the United States which
has a plethora of these organisations representing different branches
of the Armed Forces and it works there. It does not affect the
Chain of Command there or the ethos. Why are you so against it?
You are going to have to give in eventually, I will tell you this.
You have to recognise that society has changed. Unlike with the
Service Complaints Commissioner which you were dragged screaming
and kicking to approve eventually, I have to say you will eventually
have to agree to this.
Derek Twigg: I think the argument
that somebody else does something does not necessarily mean that
we have to do that. We have our way of doing things in this country
and I believe the systems we have are robust. Recently the Australian
Federation has disbanded or got in trouble; I am not quite sure
Q406 Mr Jones: It has, yes.
Derek Twigg: So I can only say
to you that I talk, like you do, to probably thousands of Service
personnel, and I get lots of correspondence and I cannot ever
say I have seen a groundswell of opinion saying that it is absolutely
essential to have this federation, and for the reasons I have
given I really could not add any more to that.
Mr Jones: We will wait and see.
Q407 Chairman: Minister, you have
seen the way that the Police Federation has grown up. I do not
suppose you would say that that had damaged the police in any
way, would you?
Derek Twigg: It is not a case
so much about whether it has damaged the police or been a bad
thing. In terms of the Armed Forces, we have this tradition. In
terms of the options for taking forward these issues and the special
nature of the Armed Forces, I do not necessarily think because
something is right for another organisation it is right for the
Q408 Mr Borrow: There is a danger
when you are trying to gauge what the views of the people you
employ are that you can look at the websites and you can get the
odd letter and that gives you a certain picture. One of the advantages
of some sort of representative body such as a federation is that
there is a collective view arrived at by that body of what is
wrong or right and some mechanism to put it right. The danger
is quite often that you get one or two observations which are
at the extreme end which do not necessarily reflect the generality
of views and it is about how the MoD gets a view of what the generality
of opinion is within the men and women that they employ and how
that mechanism works. There is no formal structure to do that.
It is just opinion surveys, etc. The thing that the Police Federation
can do for the Police Service is say, "This is collectively
what we think the police as a service need and these are the views",
and they come to some collective views. There will be people at
one extreme and the other outside that but there is at least something
for the Police Service and the Home Office to discuss with and
to form a view with. Within the MoD there is not that same structure.
Derek Twigg: If you look at the
range of things we do in terms of the Continuous Attitude Survey,
that is often quoted against us because it often is the negatives
that are picked out from it, so obviously that is perceived to
be a pretty reflective view by a large number of people. That
is one way. We as ministers meet literally thousands of Service
personnel during our time in office, but the Chiefs do the same
sorts of briefings and talk to Service personnel. There are, of
course, many items of correspondence that I particularly receive
because I deal with lots of these issues around personnel and
discipline areas, whether it is from individual serving personnel
or their wives or partners. It is on a regular basis. Without
being arrogant about it in any way, in terms of whether we do
not know what the general view is of our Service personnel, I
think we would be missing something if that was the case given
the range of opportunities we have to get views, as I say, and
I have not seen a groundswell of opinion from serving personnel
that they want this.
Q409 Mr Jenkin: Are there any public
expenditure implications to the possibility of an Armed Forces
federation? Would it cost public money?
Derek Twigg: The honest answer
is that I do not know as we have not decided to have one.
Q410 Mr Jenkin: May I just point
out that the Chain of Command is already compromised by the Service
Complaints Commissioner, and indeed by the courts which are interfering
with the Chain of Command. I rather agree with the general sentiment
in this Committee that it is an inevitability and it might be
an advantage to have an Armed Forces federation speaking more
confidentially and more closely to the Ministry of Defence than
a variety of organisations that claim to represent the Armed Forces
from outside the Armed Forces at the moment. I have not heard
a killer punch against the idea.
Derek Twigg: Obviously I have
failed in my task then, Mr Jenkin. I can only repeat what I have
said. I do think with the range of views and getting the opinions
of our Service personnel it means there are lots of opportunities
for ministers to do that down the line. There are the Continuous
Attitude Surveys, the various surveys we do, the various forums
that exist, etc, so I do not necessarily agree with that. On the
other hand, I have not seen a really strong argument that outweighs
that, to be quite frank. In terms of the Chain of Command, I do
not accept that. We had a discussion about this on a statutory
instrument last year with regard to the changes that are being
proposed in terms of the Service Complaints Commissioner if he
was there. I think the Service Complaints Commissioner is complementary.
I think the processes are robust and people have the opportunity
to take their complaints up the line.
Q411 Chairman: I do not think you
have been trying to punch this to death, Minister. I think you
have been trying to smother it.
Derek Twigg: It is not my intention.
Vice Admiral Wilkinson: I hesitate
to say it would be anything like a killer punch, but can I just
point out the low level work of my own committee, the Services
Personnel Board, that I chair and on which the three principal
personnel officers, one from each of the Services, sit. I am left
in no doubt as to the strength of feeling that they are representing
on behalf of their own Service on a whole range of personnel issues.
This work goes on largely unsung but I think it is yet another
mechanism by which Service people are making their feelings known.
I freely admit this is coming up through the Chain of Command
but there is a strong vein through here that means that in the
Ministry of Defence we are getting to hear what really does bother
our people and that is why we then take action to make lives better
Q412 Mr Jones: SSAFA and the Families
Federations told us that welfare support is based around the needs
of the Command structure rather than the needs of an individual
and the individual's family. They said it needs to be more cohesive,
the welfare package, and I think the Ministry have already touched
on some of the things you are trying to do. Would you agree with
that and what could be done to improve that?
Derek Twigg: Clearly the Command
has an absolute duty to ensure that welfare support is provided
for the Service personnel; it is important that the structure
is in place, and if it has meant that it is too much around what
they specifically want and not enough around what families want
I am not sure I go along with that. I think SAFFA themselves have
been very much involved in welfare. The Families Federations are
very much involved in welfare, ranging from the padre to the HIVE
information centre. There is a whole range of welfare support
on bases and out in operations. As to whether that can be improved,
I accept it probably can, and I think that is the point I made
to you earlier on, that we recognise this. In fact, we are having
another welfare conference in July to follow up from the previous
welfare conference on what more improvements could be made. Yes,
there clearly is room for more improvement but whether it is in
some way stymied because it is based on the Command structure,
I would not necessarily accept that.
Q413 Mr Jenkin: Why is ethnic minority
recruiting so important?
Derek Twigg: It is very important
that we have Armed Forces which reflect society as a whole. I
think that is why we have put so much effort into it, to try and
raise the number of ethnic minority recruits.
Q414 Mr Jenkin: And you are missing
out on a great deal of potential talent.
Derek Twigg: We have a full range
of talented people that we would like to see from communities
recruited into the Armed Forces and ethnic minorities are clearly
one of a number of people that we want to do that and see more
people involved in the Armed Forces and recruited, and that is
why we have put so much attention and effort and resource into
it. Of course, we have seen that our ethnic minority recruits
have done tremendous things in the Armed Forces and we hope to
continue to improve the level of recruitment that we have. It
is a very difficult task, as you know, from the information we
have given you, but it is not through want of trying and that
comes from ministers down to the Chain of Command and the Chiefs
Q415 Mr Jenkin: So what is the principal
reason we keep missing our targets?
Derek Twigg: That is a very difficult
question to answer. There is not one reason. We engage at all
levels, whether it is from the Chief of the Defence Staff or leaders
of the Muslim community to our recruiting officers to the special
community events to engage with specific parts of the ethnic minority
community. I do not think we know the full reason why we cannot
improve on that further.
Q416 Mr Jenkin: Are they all realistic?
Vice Admiral Wilkinson: They are
aspirational. I fully support the Minister's view that we need
to reflect the society we represent if we possibly can. We are
carrying out a research project at the moment to try to understand
better the reasons why people from the ethnic minorities do not
wish to join the Services. We have made considerable ground over
the last few years in understanding the importance of speaking
to the gatekeepers within the communities, those individuals of
standing, parents and in many cases grandparents, but there are
huge difficulties sometimes in reaching particular areas of our
society. The Chinese community in this country is well established
and has been for a number of years but our attempts to recruit
from that have been extremely difficult.
Q417 Mr Jenkin: And the Hindu community,
Vice Admiral Wilkinson: Again,
we are trying extremely hard, sir. It is not for want of trying
that we have not achieved success thus far.
Q418 Mr Jenkin: So are we ever going
to meet these targets?
Derek Twigg: I cannot guarantee
that we will meet the targets but we want to and we are working
very hard to do that and we believe we can, but a lot of work
is needed. This is not going to be something in the short term.
We have to build upon the work we have already done, and perhaps
you will understand, as Admiral Wilkinson has said, in terms of
the reasons why people do not want to join the Armed Forces. I
do not think it is a case of never meeting the targets. It is
about not giving up on that and I think it is right that we do
not give up and it is right that we have a target that you may
argue is an aspiration at the moment but is actually a target
we think better reflects the ethnic minority community and how
they should be represented in the Armed Forces.
Q419 Mr Jenkin: And reflects the
values that the Armed Forces are trying to present to the public.
Derek Twigg: And the values we