Examination of Witnesses (Questions 58-131)
Q58 Chair: Will the newcomers
be kind enough to introduce themselves?
Mr Lowe: I am Simon Lowe; I work
in Mr Barlow's Service Personnel Policy team and head up the work
on the Armed Forces Covenant.
Mr Garrett: I am Jeff Garrett,
and I am Head of Pensions, Compensation and Veterans' Policy.
Air Commodore Wilcock: I'm Air
Commodore Charlie Wilcock. I work for the Surgeon General as Head
of Medical Strategy and Policy, so I am not specifically a part
of the Armed Forces Bill team.
Q59 Chair: Thank you. The second
part of the evidence session relates to something we covered in
part this morning about the Covenant. How do the provisions in
the Bill fit into the Government's wider plans for rebuilding
the Covenant? What will the next steps be? Who would like to begin?
Mr Barlow: I will start and perhaps
ask Mr Lowe to fill in more details. I think the key point here
is that the Bill provides the basic mechanism through which the
Government are held to account for their actions on implementing
the Armed Forces Covenant. We already have procedures in place
for the External Reference Group to produce annual reports, and
clause 2 strengthens those procedures by enshrining a requirement
in law. Assuming the legislation is passed, as I said in the previous
session, we will work through with other stakeholders, particularly
those on the ERG, on the detail of how the Report should be drawn
together. In due course, we will start work on the first report
under statutory provisions, which would come some time next year.
The Strachan report fits into that as well.
I mentioned in previous session that the Government intend to
respond to that report in the spring. That is the point at which
we will be able to set out further details of the Covenant itself,
the principles the Government believe should apply to it and a
complete description of the programme of measures the Government
intend to implement to take forward Covenant work across the board.
Q60 Chair: Does "responding
in the spring" mean before or after Easter?
Mr Barlow: We have not reached
a final decision on when that would be.
Q61 Mr Jones: When the Strachan
report was set up, it was quite limited. When I read it, I was
quite disappointed with what came forward. I don't think it really
looked at what was already in place. But one of the tasks, as
it says in the introduction, was "to develop a series of
innovative, low-cost policy ideas to help rebuild the Military
Covenant." It is quite clear, as I said earlier, that what
is being spun about this Billthat it is actually enshrining
the Military Covenant in lawis not the case. On day one
of the Coalition Government coming to officeor the new
Ministerwhat was the process in terms of deciding what
the starting point was for the new policy? What was actually included
in or extracted from the Report, and what was not?
Mr Barlow: There are two different
steps there. At the time, when the Government came to power, they
set out in the Coalition Agreement what their intentions were
regarding the Covenant, which was essentially a commitment to
deliver on a series of specific policy initiatives. A requirement
for the Strachan Task Force came later as a result of further
ministerial direction on how Ministers wished to take forward
other measures and seek views on what the other measures should
Mr Lowe: The reference to low-cost
measures was simply the recognition that practical steps to help
restore the Covenant would not necessarily have to be about money,
and that there were things that could be done in terms of policy
changes or the involvement of service providers or local authorities.
It was about how they approached the problem and not necessarily
about the resources they had. So Professor Strachan, who had the
background of membership of the External Reference Group and was
familiar with these kinds of issues, was invited to think out
of the box, if you like.
Q62 Mr Jones: He did not go very
far out of the box.
Mr Lowe: He was invited to look
from a different perspective to a policy official and to give
his perception of the kind of steps that could be taken to take
matters forward on the Covenant without necessarily resorting
to large resource bills.
Q63 Mr Jones: I accept that there
are certain things you can do that do not necessarily need money.
It is about getting people talking, which is part of the Command
Paper. It is a way of getting people working more effectively.
But it is clear that if you are going to make the Covenant legally
enforceable in certain waysit was in the Green Paper about
commitments to local government, for example, or standards that
you had to put inthat would involve a cost, so cost was
clearly an issue in terms of what went into the Bill and what
Mr Barlow: Resources must always
be an issue for Government. The approach that is being taken on
the Covenant quite reasonably recognises that, but it would be
wrong to suggest that the Government are not putting resources
into this policy area. They are continuing, for example, to resource
the change to the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, which had
been brought in. The doubling of the operational allowance was
another significant measure with resources attached to it, so
there is a combination of things going on.
Q64 Mr Jones: The Strachan report
was actually commissioned by the Prime Minister. In terms of deciding
what went into the Covenant, what was the policy process? How
involved was No. 10 in terms of recommending what went in? Or
was it a purely MoD thing that was driven forward?
Mr Barlow: In terms of framing
Q65 Mr Jones: Framing the legislation
and what went in in terms of the Covenant and what we have before
Mr Barlow: In the normal way,
there was consultation across Government, managed by the Cabinet
Office, in which No. 10 was involved.
Q66 Jack Lopresti: What do you
consider to be the key purpose of the Armed Forces Covenant Report
to Parliament? Is there a fundamental issue in having an annual
report, which at the moment remains vague and abstract?
Mr Barlow: Well, I'd hope that
the Report itself, when it comes in, won't be vague and abstract
at all, and that it will give a full account of what has been
done to support the Armed Forces community and an assessment of
what further needs to be done. That's primarily the benefit that
we see in bringing forward the legislationthat the Government
have to look at these issues annually and be held to account accordingly.
That is a further strengthening of the current position.
Q67 Gemma Doyle: From reading
the Bill, particularly clause 2, the only measure that is enshrined
in law is the responsibility of the Secretary of State to report
to Parliament. As the Bill stands, that duty is to report on education,
health care and housing only, and obviously any other matter that
he or she sees fit. On the basis that those issues are devolved
to the Scottish Parliament, would you agree that if you were a
Scottish veteran, you should not look to the Bill for any sort
of protection of your rights?
Mr Barlow: Perhaps Simon can comment
further on how we intend to deal with the Devolved Administrations
on devolved matters, but first of all I should say that, as is
the case now, the Devolved Administrations will continue to be
involved in the work of the External Reference Group, and they
are very much part of the process.
Mr Lowe: Yes, that's right. Clearly,
in terms of the responsibilities of the Devolved Administrations,
the Secretary of State or the Government are not answerable to
the Westminster Parliament in the way that was the case previously.
But essentially, the Report is about putting information into
the hands of Parliament. By a process of working with the Devolved
Administrations in preparing the Report, as we do already, we
aim to give a complete picture of how the situation is across
the UK. We are very conscious that from the point of view of the
Service personespecially the Service person, given the
mobility to which they are subjectthey have a close interest
in how they are served by the Administrations across the UK, wherever
they happen to be posted. Therefore, we would see it as part of
that overall picture, to cover matters even if they are not within
the responsibilities of the Westminster Government.
Mr Morrison: May I add to that?
It's not intended to be limited to the UK. It has been drafted
so as to enable these sorts of issues to be addressed in relation
to the Forces worldwide. I just want to make that clear in case
there was any doubt that there might be some intention to limit
the scrutiny, as it were, that is included in these reports to
the United Kingdom. It is meant to cover Members of the Armed
Forces, the Service community and former Members. As far as the
existing Members of the Armed Forces are concerned, it is not
limited to the UK at all; it is looking at the problems wherever
they are, be it Germany or Cyprus.
Q68 Gemma Doyle: I understand
what your hopes are for what the Secretary of State will report
on, but my question is quite straightforward. As the Bill stands,
there is nothing in clause 2 that applies to Scots serving in
the Armed Forces or Scottish veterans, in terms of legal definitions.
Mr Morrison: The point that I
am making is that it applies to all Members of the Armed ForcesScottish,
Irish and so on. It doesn't matter at all. The Report is intended
to cover Members of the Armed Forces wherever they live or operate.
There is no territorial limit on this at all. We discussed that
with the Devolved Administrations, and they said that that doesn't
matter to them in that it doesn't infringe on their devolved responsibilities.
Devolution comes in if the Report identifies, say, a problem in
housing that applies in both Scotland and England, and then, should
it require legislation, a decision would be made about whether
it would need, for example, Scottish legislation.
One of the complications about trying to define
the Covenant and rights and standards in the Bill is that that
would have meant that we were treading on devolved areas. If we
had started saying that Members of the Armed Forces living in
Scotland or based in Scotland must have certain rights, that would
have taken us straight into the devolution problem. So we have
put in place a worldwide provision for Members of the Armed Forces
in terms of what we look at. Whether the legislation is needed
and, if so, whether it is to be Scottish or Northern Irish or
Welsh or Westminster legislation are the sorts of questions that
can only be addressed when we have identified the problems and
decided that legislation is a way that will deal with them.
Bob Russell: Chairman, I hope that I'm
not coming in too early. This is on housing and what will actually
be enshrined in the Bill.
Chair: All right, come in later then.
Q69 Mr Jones: In terms of the
Report, what is the situation if the Secretary of State puts something
in the Report that either the Scottish Government or the Welsh
Assembly fundamentally disagree with? Is there any appeal mechanism
or way for them to change that? Having dealt with both, there
is one Minister in Walesif she's still therewho
is particularly difficult.
Chair: Mr Barlow, you do not have to
answer that particular question.
Mr Barlow: Thank you. We need
to work through further with the Devolved Administrations exactly
how we are going to handle the annual reporting process and how
it is going to represent their positions fairly and constitutionally.
I think it is fair to acknowledge that that remains a work in
progress. So far, what we have committed to with them is that
we will address that and that we will ensure that we have a proper
dialogue with them about how their views can be represented and
in precisely what format. So I think there is a potential or theoretical
problem that we would hope not to bring into practice.
Q70 Gemma Doyle: To build on that
a bit, I can foresee a problem here not only in terms of Scottish
public services, but with what happens in England. I am interested
in what process you think will develop if the Secretary of State
comes to Parliament and says, "Our Armed Forces and veterans
are being disadvantaged in the area of housing, and local authorities"I
understand that, in some cases, it will be local authorities that
deal with this"are not meeting our responsibilities
on housing to our Armed Forces, to their families and to veterans."
The local authority then says, "But we've had our budget
slashed." Where is the redress then? How do you resolve that
problem? Where does the responsibility lie?
Mr Barlow: Are you talking about
redress between central Government and the Devolved Administrations
or between individuals and the Government that they happen to
Q71 Gemma Doyle: The redress should
be for the individual. If there is, however, no legal basis or
requirement at all, and the Secretary of State is reporting on
matters that the Government are not directly responsible for deliveringthat
was my comparison with pensions and benefits that I brought up
earlier, and it would make a lot of sense to have the Secretary
of State Report on how pensions and benefits were deliveredwhat
is the process if the local authority says, "We can't do
this. We don't have the money?"
Mr Barlow: In part, it depends
on what their specific legal obligations are.
Q72 Gemma Doyle: Which is nothing
under the Bill.
Mr Barlow: No, that is not true.
There won't be legal obligations under the Bill, but there will
be other legal obligations in that there are either general legal
obligations that local authorities or others have to meet to any
client or customer, or, in some cases, there will be specific
ones that are relevant to Members of the Armed Forces, which we
are either pursuing through Government administrative action and
commitments or through legislation itself. As at present, there
will be examples of such areas.
Generally speaking, in working with the Devolved
Administrations on the implementation of the first Command Paper
and Covenant Commitments, the Devolved Administrations have been
prepared to work very closely with us on matters that are properly
devolved. In practice, the aspirations that have been set for
England and Wales have been more than matched in the other Administrations.
We would plan on the basis that that pattern will continue. What
we propose is not creating a worse position by any means. Humphrey,
do you want to add anything more on the legal issues?
Mr Morrison: I don't think so,
unless it would be helpful. Is there anything specific I can add?
I agree entirely with what Mr Barlow says.
Mr Lewitt: Can I briefly add something?
There are other ways of reaching the same end. For example, the
current position on establishing a local connection is set out
in guidance. When Key Worker status is abolished, we are looking,
with the CLG, to reach a similar position as well. Many of the
rights of veterans in the health service are set out in the NHS
Operating Framework, which is the guidance that the Department
of Health gives to strategic local health authorities and PCTs.
Whatever the mandate to the Commissioning Board is, we would want
to ensure that it adequately reflected our concerns about the
care of ex-Service personnel by their local commissioning consortium,
however that might work. Legislation is not always the answer
to everything. Policy guidance, provided you can get points properly
represented in it, is just as effective.
Q73 Mr Jones: It is, but we are
going through a radical shake-up of the Health Service where Strategic
Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts will be got rid of.
Consortia of GPs will have different priorities. How will you
ensure that some of the things that we did in the guidance to
PCTs and others for severely disabled and wounded soldiers is
actually going to be carried through? Will there not be differences
in different areas, depending on whether or not a GP is sympathetic
or, coming back to Gemma's point, that the budget is available
in all areas? If a GP gets one of our most severely disabled veterans
on their list, it will be bloody expensive to deal with.
Mr Lewitt: Just as it can be for
smaller PCTs. The other month, I spent more than an hour on the
Bill Team for the Department of HealthI think Air Commodore
Wilcock was with mewhen it was discussing the restructuring
of the NHS. I know through the DH/MoD Partnership Board that this
is a key issue. If I understand the proposals correctly, there
is likely to be what is called a mandate to the Commissioning
Board. In that document, we will have an opportunity to set out
precisely the same sort of concerns, direction and Government
policy that the current operating framework sets out to SHAs and
Mr Garrett: May I just add one
thing? Armed Forces networks are being established in each of
the 10 Strategic Health Authority areas, which bring together
the NHS, the Service charities, clinicians, veterans and the Armed
Forces. Although the Strategic Health Authorities won't survive
the change, the Armed Forces networks are definitely going to,
and will bring in as well the GP consortia as and when they are
established. So, mechanisms are being put in place to ensure that
there can be a consistent delivery of veterans' health services.
Q74 Chair: Getting back to the
Devolved Administrations point, would you expect them to see the
Secretary of State's draft Report before it is finalised?
Mr Barlow: I think that we probably
Q75 Chair: If so, why would you
stop? Would you expect the commissioning GPs to see it before
it is finalised?
Mr Barlow: No, we wouldn't. We
would expect Government Departments and the Devolved Administrations
to be involved in the preparation of the Report itself, but that
does not rule out the possibility of others being involved in
evidence gathering or consultation exercises as might be required.
Bob Russell: Do you want me to go on
to the housing one now?
Q76 Bob Russell: Thank you. It
is an important question, Chairman, but having served on Committees
in the past I know that there is nothing worse than somebody coming
in on somebody else's question too early.
Following on from some of the other points that
have been made, when the Minister gives his Military Covenant
report to the House, will it, for example, give specific information
about the number of MoD married quarters that have been modernised
in the previous 12 months to bring them up to the required standard,
how many are left that require modernisation and the time frame
for every MoD married quarters to be brought up to standard? Would
that sort of detail be in the Report?
Mr Barlow: I think that sort of
detail probably would be covered, yes. Gary, do you have any further
thoughts about that?
Mr Lewitt: The absolute answer
to your question is, "Do I know for certain here and now?
No. Is it an issue that is hugely topical? You don't need me to
tell you that it is." You've got a very large base, or set
of bases, in your constituency and I get poked in the chest by
the heads of the Families Federations personally on the floor
plate and anybody who thinks that they are not independent is
welcome to come and stand in my boots when I am being poked in
I am pretty confident that information on that
sort of issue could well be in the Report. What is being done
this year? Are we moving forwards? What is the plan? That information
could well feature.
Q77 Bob Russell: So, with a bit
of luck there will be a fair amount of meat on the bones of this
Mr Lewitt: Not everything in the
Covenant is the problem, or issue to resolve, of someone other
than the MoD. There are issues that lie within the MoD to resolve.
There is no argument about that. Equally, the point of the Report
is to report on the actions that the whole of Government are taking.
There is no benefit if the Report is simply about what the MoD
is doing, because then everything becomes, "The MoD's problem
is not my problemsigned local PCT, local authority, whatever
Q78 Bob Russell: I hope that you
agree that for Members it is important that we can track progress,
or indeed lack of progress, so that the Government of the day
can be held to account for any failings, perceived or otherwise.
Mr Lewitt: Yes.
Mr Lowe: May I add that my conception
of this Report would be that, in comparison with some others,
it would probably be more people-focused, if you like? So, in
the context of housing, this Report would not itself be a report
on management of the estate. It would not be about disposals or
levels of void properties, or the like. It would focus more on
the experience of families and it would include, for example,
that input from the families themselves about how they perceive
the process, for instance, of being allocated a house, or their
experience of living in it, and the maintenance required for the
houses that they lived in. So the Report would look different
from the other kinds of material that might be produced on the
management of the estate, because it would have that focus.
Q79 Mark Lancaster: Will you run
through the three reporting streamshousing, health care
and educationand explain how they relate to the Reserve
Mr Barlow: Simon, would you like
to cover that?
Mr Lowe: As I think you have mentioned
at an earlier session, Mr Lancaster, some areas have less relevance
to the Reserve Forces than other areas.
Q80 Mark Lancaster: Specifically,
is there any relevance in housing to the Reserve Forces? I am
not asking if there is less relevance, but any relevance.
Mr Lowe: I don't see any major
issue at the moment that, if I was looking and working on the
Report today, I would expect to include. But part of the consultation
process that we would be engaging in would allow us to flag up
any issues that were current on the day, so that we could. I cannot
see what they would be, but I don't rule it out.
Q81 Mark Lancaster: So no for
housing. What about education?
Mr Lowe: The same, I think, is
true of education, with the possible exception of certain forms
of training that would be provided to Members of the Reserves,
but I am very much speculating as to what issues might arise.
Q82 Mark Lancaster: And health
Mr Lowe: I think there is an issue
about how we deal with the potential effects of service, in particular
deployment, on the health care of Members of the Reserve Forcestracking
their health after they deploy; what we do to ensure that when
they return from theatre they are adequately cared for. There
might be a very good case for that being included in the Report.
Q83 Mark Lancaster: The point
I am gently making, and it is probably clear, is that I thinkand
I do have an interestthat Members of the reserve sometimes
feel that they are only valued when they are mobilised, when they,
of course, enjoy almost all the benefits of being in the Regular
Forces. The Report offers a tremendous opportunity for us to demonstrate
to the Reserve Forces that they are valued, too. Personally, I
would like to see a specific category for mentioning Reserve Forces,
because there are some unique challenges facing them, not least
the dislocation of families. Did you consider having a fourth
category specifically for Reserve Forces, because they cut across
those three categories in so many unusual ways? If you did, why
did you dismiss it?
Mr Barlow: Perhaps I could just
say that the Reserves are mentioned on the face of the Bill. It
is clear that the scope of the Report is intended to cover Reserve
Forces. I think health care is a major element of that, and is
where many of our current issues with Reserve Forces do come up
in practice. Actually, I think there is rather more on the education
side as well that is relevant to Reserve Forces. Gary.
Mr Lewitt: It is worth sayingand
there is no argument, Mr Lancasterthat although they are
not specifically mentioned in the clause, the intent is that we
would cover them. A large number of the individual measures that
have been under consideration of course do: the R and R measure;
the scholarship measure for the children of those killed in action;
and things such as the Transition Protocol, where an individual
has been under DMS care and will then move across to NHS. So I
can see that, within the individual areas, there are issues that
are common to the Reserves and to everybody else, and then, as
you say, there are some specific issues where Reservists attract
specific concern and specific measures. From my perspective, certainly
as a person who owns a chunk of the welfare policy area, my understanding
is that the intent in the drafting is very clear that omission
does not mean exclusion.
Q84 Mark Lancaster: I accept that.
I am not for one second suggesting that there has been any intent
to slight the Reserve Forces. I am concerned, though, that there
are very specific needs of the Reserves that do not fall comfortably
into those three categories. At the moment, on the face of the
Bill, we are relying effectively on the second category where
there may be other areas that the Secretary of State decides to
include. That implies that in some years they may appear and in
some years they may not. Personally, I would be more comfortable,
and I am sure other Members of the Reserve Forces would be, if
that were simply enshrined in the Bill along with those other
three categories. In the past, there has always been the impressionwe
haven't mentioned Reserves at all this morning, for examplethat
they are sometimes forgotten, or are second-class citizens. This
is an ideal opportunity for a very simple, minor change to the
Bill to demonstrate to the Reserve Forces that, actually, they
are being considered.
Mr Barlow: As I said, the definition
in the Bill at the moment does say, in this section "Service
People" means members of the Regular Forces and the Reserve
Forces. So it is very clear that the Reserve Forces are covered,
and have to be covered, in the Report. That is certainly the intention.
Q85 Mark Lancaster: I will shut
up now, Chairman; but the choosing of those three categories exclusively
almost undermines what you've just said.
Mr Barlow: Yes, but it's not exclusively,
and that's the point we've made already. They're certainly not
intended to be exclusive.
Q86 Mr Francois: Chairman, can
I just follow up on that? I declare an interest as an ex-Reservist,
although that was back in the last century, for the avoidance
of doubt. Is it a fair interpretation that there's going to be
a narrative that runs through the Report, that makes clear how
these particular issues will impact on the Reserve Forces? You
said it's not exclusive, so they're going to be in there, but
is it fair to say that that will be a theme that will be reflected
in the Report, even if it's not under a firm heading of its own?
Mr Barlow: Yes. We will have
to deal with matters affecting the Reserve Forces in the Report.
Mr Morrison: I think I should
make it clear that the enormous width of the Covenant, as Commodore
Jameson rightly emphasised, means that not every aspect of the
Covenant in respect of every group within that very wide category
of Regulars, Reserves, former Regulars, former Reserves and the
broader Service communityService families and so onwill
be covered in every report. The clause does not require that.
The aim is to provide a mechanism by which important issues can
be identified and then addressed in detail and put to Parliament,
rather than to provide what would inevitably be something of a
gallop through every single aspect of the Covenant as it affects
all the different groups. I just want to make that clear in case
what we have said might give rise to an expectation that every
report will attempt to cover everything.
Q87 Mr Ellwood: On that very point,
you have deliberately chosen three subjects because you didn't
want to be too prescriptivehealth care, education and housingbut
Mark raises an important aspect of the Reserves. You are saying
that you are going to select those pieces that are relevant for
the 12-month period and then report back on them. For completion's
sake and for the benefit of us, who will end up debating these
thingsand also for the Nation as well, to be aware of how
the Covenant is doingwould it not make sense to have a
more comprehensive report?
You are describing a document that sounds like
it's going to be pretty pithy, and I think that, guessing the
mood of the Committee, we want something a little substantial
that really does summarise where things actually are. So you could,
in fact, without introducing more headings, certainly have the
main disciplinesthe Navy, Army and RAF, as well as the
reservesas titles that need to be fed in. I'd hate to
think that the Secretary of State would come forward with a very
short proposal or report one year simply because there was not
much to report from the previous year. I think there needs to
be quite a comprehensive document, and that's what we would be
Mr Morrison: Certainly a balance
needs to be struck so that you get continuity from year to year,
you get an overview, and you get an identification of specific
problems, and perhaps proposals for specific ways of dealing with
those problems. So there are at least three functions that each
report will be expected, by Parliament at least, to fulfil.
Q88 Mr Ellwood: Would it not then
make sense to have a chapter, or whatever you are going to call
it, on the Reserves, which I think is quite important? Looking
at the Bill itself, there isn't much information about what the
structure of the Report will actually be, other than the three
Mr Barlow: I think that we would
certainly want to take account of the Committee's views on what
matters we should address in the Report, but we also have to give
the External Reference Group the chance to bring to the table
the things that are important to it and to help guide the content.
What I'd certainly say is that the idea that as we are currently
planning to take this forward it could be in some way a cursory
report that was limited to what little we could get away with
under three headings is not the way we see it at all. It's not
the way Ministers see it and it's certainly not the way our stakeholders
see it either. If that's some form of reassurance then I offer
Q89 Mr Francois: Just to follow
up, one of the advantages is that the Report will be annual and
people can be examined on it. It is not for me to dictate the
programme of the House of Commons Defence Committee, but I am
pretty sure that it will end up having an evidence session on
the Report, which would be logical.
What thought has been given to communicating
the Report's conclusions internally within the Forces, because
clearly it will be important for them, as well as for those looking
in from the outside? For instance, have you considered having
road shows, presentations to units, or anything along those lines
to communicate the conclusions internally as well as externally?
Mr Barlow: I take the point that
internal communication is important. The Services have repeatedly
made that point to us in work over the past couple of years on
the Command Paper and, subsequently, on the Covenant. Simon, do
you want to say something about how we managed that, in terms
of reports that we have had so far, and what further areas of
improvement there might be?
Mr Lowe: Yes, I think that when
a report of this kind is published we will look to the chain of
command to pass that message down to all units. We would expect
some of the Members of the External Reference Group, such as Families
Federations, to be putting this on their websites and including
it in their material. We can expect to be invited to their conferences
to present to their Membersthe charities, likewise.
We will also be engaged in trying to ensure
that Members of the Armed Forces, and families and veterans, also
become aware of what this means for them. One of the lessons of
the work on the Service Personnel Command Paper has been that
Members of the Armed Forces, understandably, are often most interested
in, "What is in this for me today?" and not in some
theoretical assessment of percentages or whatever. So, we will
be looking, as specific things become available that Service personnel
would be interested in, to get that message across straightforwardly,
simply, and widely, through leaflets and, again, through the chain
of command. That will be the best way of making contact with people
throughout the Forces.
Chair: It is 12.17. I remind the Committee
that we are meeting again this afternoon, so I want to pick up
a bit of speed. We need short questions and short answers.
Q90 Jack Lopresti: A short questionI
don't know whether the answer will be shortwhat kind of
parliamentary scrutiny do the Government envisage?
Mr Barlow: I don't think we have
reached a view on that. Simon, have you got advice in your mind
about what that might involve?
Mr Lowe: No. We had obviously
thought of, as Mr Francois mentioned, the possibility of the Select
Committee taking an interest in the Report, and there could be
scope for a debate. But beyond that, no, we did not feel that
it was our place to develop those ideas.
Q91 Alex Cunningham: The previous
panel made it abundantly clear that they were opposed to minimum
standards being enshrined in the law for education, housing and
health. I would have thought that serving people and their families
would find that very helpful. Do you agree that there should be
minimum standards? Perhaps we could hear the view of some of those
who have not already commented.
Chair: Mr Barlow, to whom would you like
to allocate that question?
Mr Barlow: Obviously, they will
have to represent the Departmental position, just as I have. May
I say one thing before I pass the question over to Simon? One
of the principles that have guided us through working on this
is the view that comes back from the Services, which includes
the Families Federations. They do not want to be put on a pedestal
and subjected to special treatment across the board. That comes
back to a point that Mr Lewitt made about the fundamental being
no disadvantages as a result of Service. That is one of the fundamentals
that we look to, and, to some extent, picking on minimum standards
for Service personnel or the Service community themselves could,
in certain circumstances, run counter to that.
Q92 Alex Cunningham: A good example
is housing. If we look at the Task Force Report, it acknowledges
the poor condition of accommodation, but then talks about exploring
ideas for long-term improvements "within the constraints
of low or no cost measures." Isn't this just a way of not
spending money, and of hiding behind the fact that you don't have
a minimum standard?
Mr Barlow: No, not at all. There
are a number of different issues on housing, and they are not
all about the standard of Service housing, although some of them
are. Indeed, the standard of Service housing has been subject
to considerable investment and improvement over the years, and
it continues to be so. The issues are also about access to affordable
housing, and about things that we can do as a Department on our
policies of moving people, and on the opportunities that we give
them to own their own homes and to be more stable. Those are all
issues that we need to address under the category of housing;
there is not just one set of standards. That is the way in which
we would want to approach this subject.
Mr Lowe: Just very quickly, to
confirm that just because there are not minimum standards in the
Bill, it does not mean that there are not minimum standards either
in other legislation, as Mr Lewitt pointed out, or through policy
areas. I believe that it is now MoD policy that a family should
not have to occupy a house at one of the lowest standards for
condition. That is now established as a policy that families can
draw on, but it does not need legislation to create that standard.
I'll leave it there, unless Members wish to follow that up.
Q93 Gemma Doyle: This is probably
a question for Mr Morrison. Is it true or false to say that the
Bill enshrines the Military Covenant in law?
Mr Morrison: "Enshrined"
is really a rather grand word, but the Bill is certainly the first
statutory recognition of the existence of the Covenantthat's
the first element. The second, obviously, is that it provides
for the first time a statutory mechanism for dealing with problems
that arise under the Covenant. I think that I would probably call
that "enshrining", but it is quite grand, as I say.
Q94 Gemma Doyle: So you think
that the statement is true? I am just a little confused, because
earlier in the week you argued that the Covenant should not be
enshrined in law.
Mr Morrison: There is an issue
about whether the Covenant should be defined in law or whether
it should be given some sort of legal effect, which raises all
sorts of very difficult questions. If I use lawyers' terms rather
than emotive terms, such as "enshrine", the question
of defining is difficult, as is the question of what legal rights,
if any, should be created, as we have discussed already. Whether
what has been done so far would count, to a member of the public,
as "enshrining", I don't know to be honest, because
I'm not really sure what "enshrining" means.
Q95 Gemma Doyle: Okay. It is just
that it is used in an MoD press release on the website.
Mr Morrison: It seems to me quite
a bold and positive word to describe what we are doing, which
is recognising the existence of it in statute, and putting in
place a mechanism to give it effect.
Q96 Gemma Doyle: Okay. I may have
to pore over the transcript of that one. May I just ask one further
question? Does the Bill guarantee prioritised NHS treatment for
our Armed Forces?
Mr Morrison: No.
Q97 Mr Jones: What redress is
there in the Bill? There is no redress whatsoever. You said that
there was a statutory redress to things in the Covenant, but there
is none in the Bill. To come on to my questionif you don't
mindwhat is the difference between the Report to Parliament
every year and the External Reference Group's Annual Report?
Mr Barlow: The fundamental difference
is that there is a statutory obligation
Q98 Mr Jones: Yes, but what about
the actual content?
Mr Morrison: We have to go back
to this notion that the purpose of the statutory requirement to
put in a report to Parliament is a means to an end. It is a means
of recognising and engaging with Parliament on what the problems
are and recommending the right way to deal with those problems.
Q99 Mr Jones: I accept that, but
we have an External Reference Group Report that is produced and
published annually anyway. What is the difference between that
and what we are going to get here?
Mr Lewitt: On one level, the answer
to your question is that we don't know, because we haven't produced
a report yet.
Q100 Mr Jones: Can I suggestvery
Mr Lewitt: On another level, the
point is that it will provide an opportunity that doesn't exist
at the moment for Parliament to hold Ministers, whoever they may
be, to account.
Mr Jones: So, you basically
Q101 Chair: Hold on. Mr Lowe,
did you want to answer?
Mr Lowe: I suppose I would simply
observe that although the last two Annual Reports of the External
Reference Group have been published and, I'm sure, been taken
into account by Members of Parliament in formulating their views,
they have not been at the centre of parliamentary debate or consideration.
This is an exercise in raising the profile of that material. As
we've discussed, I hope it will do other things as well, but it
puts the Report very firmly into a spotlight that, to some extent,
it has not yet captured.
Q102 Mr Jones: So therefore do
you see the External Reference Group's report withering on the
vine, and this replacing it?
Mr Barlow: This will replace it,
Q103 Mr Jones: Right. If that's
the case, then, the one thing the External Reference Group has
got is independent members. What guarantees can you give the Armed
Forces charities that they will have input to the new Report and
can have some independent oversight of what actually goes into
Mr Barlow: The commitment's already
been made that the External Reference Group will be fully engaged
in drawing up the Report. That commitment has been made to them
directly. Ultimately, the guarantee that that input will be there
rests in their own independence.
Q104 Mr Jones: No, but there's
nothing in this legislation. I'm not questioning the current Secretary
of State's intentions at all, but what's to stop a future Secretary
of State saying, "Well, actually, I can ignore the External
Reference Group altogether."? There's nothing in this legislation
that guarantees their role in providing that report, is there?
Mr Barlow: I think that's correct
as far as the legislation's concerned.
Mr Lewitt: I think the answer
to your question, Mr Jones, is that it would be a very brave Secretary
of State who tried to get away with that.
Q105 Mr Jones: Can I just say,
Mr Lewitt, that that is a great civil service answer?
Mr Lewitt: There are many brave
Ministers, Mr Jones.
Chair: I think we're
back to "Yes Minister", aren't we?
Q106 Mr Jones: So what we're seeing
here, basically, is the existing Report of the Reference Group
being put on a report to Parliament. This is not a great, radical
move forward, is it?
Mr Barlow: Obviously, you will
make your own judgments about that, Mr Jones, but I think there's
a very significant difference between statutory and non-statutory
means, and it's not the only thing that the Government intend
to take forward under the
Q107 Mr Jones: You keep saying
that; I'm intrigued by it. That's why I asked my earlier questions.
I can't quite understand why, if other things are going to be
brought in about the new Covenant, they are not in this Bill.
If you're going to bring them back later on, why and how are you
going to make them legally enforceable? I don't know, but I am
intrigued to know what areas have not been excluded from this
Bill and the reasons why.
Mr Barlow: As I've said already,
the Government will be publishing their response to the Strachan
report in the spring, which will set out a wide range of measures,
which the Government intend to take forward under the Covenant
heading, and they will also set out the Covenant itself, as the
Government see it, but the Government have decided that those
are not matters that need to be legislated for in this Bill, though
there may be
Chair: I still want to keep the speed
Mr Barlow: Sorry, Chair.
Q108 Mr Jones: So will the Covenant
actually be produced as a document? Is that the idea?
Mr Barlow: There will be one,
Q109 Mr Robathan: Briefly, for
clarification, Mr Barlow, on how many occasions has there been
a debate or other parliamentary occasion in the Chamber of the
House of Commons when the External Reference Group has produced
Mr Barlow: I think there haven't
been any specific debates.
Q110 Mr Robathan: Exactly. And,
indeed, very little reference in the press. Is it a step forward,
do we think, that the Secretary of State will
Mr Jones: Very little reference in the
Chair: Andrew Robathan.
Mr Robathan: For instance, if the Secretary
of State were to make a statement in person, or whatever mechanism
may take its place, do we think that would give Members of Parliament
more of an opportunity to hold the Ministry of Defence to account
Mr Jones: You should be answering these
Mr Robathan: To hold the Ministry of
Defence to account in Parliament.
Mr Jones: Why don't you answer? It's
your civil servant, but these are questions we should be asking
Mr Robathan: Well, you'll have lots of
Mr Jones: No, we shouldn't. You should
be sat there, answering the bloody questions.
Chair: Mr Barlow, would you like to answer
Mr Barlow: Clearly, I would agree
with the Minister's remarks. They very much build upon the points
that the panel has already made about the significance of the
Report and the opportunity it provides for Parliament to hold
the Government properly to account.
Chair: We have one or two more questions,
but before calling on Christopher Pincher, may I commend Air Commodore
Wilcock for sitting so brilliantly silent? We haven't actually
been covering your areas of responsibility, but I nevertheless
thank you for not adding to the length of our sitting.
Q111 Christopher Pincher: We've
stepped around the question of stakeholders to the Report to Parliament,
which I understand supervenes the ERG Report but doesn't actually
replace it. I understand that the ERG Report will still be made
to the Ministry of Defence. To what extent can we expect stakeholders
providing input to the Report to have their input explicitly included
in the Report, so that we can see who said what about the key
issues around housing, education, health careand any other
issues that the Secretary of State thinks should be included?
Mr Barlow: I'll just ask Simon
to talk through the actual process and what's replacing what,
but the straight answer to that is that it will depend on the
particular issue in question and whether it is necessary for the
sake of clarity to separate out the views of individual stakeholders.
It may well be so.
Simon, do you want to say something about the
processwhat more we can say at the moment, given that we
have not fully finalised it?
Mr Lowe: Yes. I would expect us
to identify the origins of points made in the Report simply in
the interests of clarity. The importance of the points made will
obviously depend on their origin. If we are making a comment about
the situation as it applies to veterans, the fact that it comes
from an authoritative organisation such as the Royal British Legion
will be significant. Similarly, if we are reporting on the experience
of Service personnel, we will want to make clear that it is the
Army or the Navy that has a particular problem, and give as much
detail as we can. I would see it as integral to the nature of
the Report that we would be able to indicate the origin of that
Q112 Christopher Pincher: So having
identified the origin of the information, how do you go about
catching that information in the first place? What mechanism do
you use to go out to consultation?
Mr Lowe: We have experience now
of working closely with the Members of the External Reference
Group and with the chain of command itself, and harnessing the
other sources of information that are available to us. Perhaps
during the course of an annual cycle in the summer, we would be
inviting those organisations to highlight the points that they
felt were suitable for inclusion in the Report, and we would then
start to put it together.
Q113 Christopher Pincher: But
you appear to recognise that the ERG is integral to the production
of the Report; you will all probably nod your headsno nodding,
but I'll put the point anyway. Isn't it worthwhile including the
ERG in the Bill and simply saying that the Secretary of State
should be required to consult it, plus any other stakeholders
that he may from time to time require?
Mr Lowe: I think there is an issue
concerning whether it is a statutory body.
Mr Morrison: The ERG is an ad
hoc wide-ranging group. I would have thought that one of the benefits
of not defining it in legislation is that we would want to keep
flexible and to potentially widen the range of people who are
co-opted into that group. A definition in the Bill would be no
more than to list, in effect, a number of peoplepresumably
the current Members of the ERGwho had to be involved. But
there is no way in which this Report can be written without obtaining
information, ideas and so on from the ERG Members and no doubt
other people as well, so I see no benefit from saying the Secretary
of State must consult the list of the current members as a matter
Q114 Christopher Pincher: The
reason why I make the point is this. You're accepting that there
will be specific areas that are reported on, so they can be in
some way baselined, and you will at some later point define what
specific targets you're going to be measuring those areas against.
If you are potentially increasing the number of your inputs to
those areas of reporting and that set of inputs could be infinite,
you will essentially have a shifting sands baseline, so you can't
measure year on year how you're progressing against those targets.
Mr Barlow: I don't think that's
a necessary conclusion to draw about how the process will work
out. It has already been mentioned that the Report will include
a combination of things. Some things will prove to be enduring
elements in the Report, including some particular measures that
have acquired either a political significance or a significance
for particularly important parts of the stakeholder group. Some
things will recur and others will not. It's the role of those
managing the process to try to produce a report that is sensible
in length and content and that fairly reflects the principal stakeholder
views, as well as those of the Government.
Q115 Christopher Pincher: You
might have a report that has both quantitative measures, which
are based on targets and inputs that don't change over-much, and
qualitative reporting, which might be dynamic because of specific
issues that have arisen over time and that you choose to include.
Mr Barlow: Yes.
Q116 Gemma Doyle: On a point of
clarification, Mr Barlow, you have said that the Report from the
Secretary of State will replace the Report of the External Reference
Group, but the Minister, who I appreciate is not giving evidence
today, stated in the House that the ERG would continue to be asked
to produce its report, which would be published in full and unedited.
What is the correct position?
Mr Barlow: We're replacing the
previous report on the Service Personnel Command Paper. Simon,
do you want to say something about what the process will actually
look like and what documentation will be produced?
Mr Lowe: To the extent that this
has been finalised, I think there are various ways in which we
could produce that kind of report. Ministers were clear in the
debate that the voice of the ERG would come through. I think it's
in that sense that we would maintain its report, rather than necessarily
as a separate publication. I think the priority is to make sure
that the views of the ERG as a whole and Members of the ERG can
be clearly recognised in the Report that is produced.
Q117 Gemma Doyle: To be clear,
as I said, the Minister did statethis is on the record
in Hansardthat the Report would continue to be published
in full and put in the public domain. That's the Report of the
ERG. But that's not the case now; that position has changed.
Mr Barlow: No, I don't think the
position has changed. I think Mr Lowe has very fairly represented
it. I think it depends in large part on the degree to which, in
the preparation of the Secretary of State's Report, the ERG as
a body is prepared to say, "Yes, in full, this fairly represents
the views of us all, including the independent members,"
in which case the requirement for two reports doesn't arise. We
have left it on the table with the ERG that if we come to the
point when, in producing the Annual Report, we need to separate
out in some way the views of the independent members and have
a separate statement recording their views prepared in some way,
either embodied within the Report or set out alongside it, we
will do that. But we're very much doing that on the basis that
what's important is that the views of the ERG are fairly represented.
Q118 Chair: Mr Barlow, can you
help me with this? The Minister said, "We believe that it
is of vital importance that the External Reference Group is retained
and continues to produce its own Annual Report." Is that
Mr Barlow: Yes.
Q119 Chair: The issue is, then,
whether it would be published. Is that the issue?
Mr Barlow: I think the issue that
you're asking me about is whether that report is the same as the
Q120 Chair: No, that is not really
the issue I am asking you about. Would the report of the External
Reference Group be published?
Mr Barlow: Simon, I think our
proposition is that there is one report. Is that correct?
Mr Lowe: I think the issue is
how far it would be integrated into the single report.
Q121 Chair: Yes, but that was
not the question I asked. Would the Report of the External Reference
Group be published?
Mr Lowe: I don't think it would
appear as an entirely separate publication.
Q122 Chair: Well, let's take that
as a no, then. So there would be a report, which would not be
Mr Barlow: No. That is not the
case. We will produce, with the External Reference Group, the
Annual Report on the Covenant as set out in the Bill. That, therefore,
is a report presented by the Secretary of State, which has been
prepared with the External Reference Group. It therefore represents
their Annual Report. We have recognised, in discussing this with
the external Members of the ERG, that it is important that that
process genuinely presents their independent views within that
Annual Report so that they can say it is effectively their Report.
If, in doing that, they wish to raise matters separately and we
cannot find a way of fairly representing their views within a
report that the Secretary of State has presented to the House,
we may see a separate document being produced. We have not crossed
that bridge yet.
Q123 Chair: So you would accept
that further thinking, further discussion and further consideration
are needed on this issue?
Mr Barlow: Yes. I have to present
it to you that way because that is the progress we have made within
the External Reference Group itself. I can't misrepresent the
views of the independent members.
Q124Mr Jones: Are you suggesting that
the Secretary of State's Report will basically be the old Reference
Mr Barlow: That is the basis on
which we have been proceeding, yes.
Q125 Mr Jones: So when the Minister
said that the Reference Group Report would still be approved,
technically it would be. So this great radical change, apart from
reporting this to Parliament, is not exactly a great radical move
forward, is it?
Chair: I think that
this is an issue that may come up in amendments during the Formal
Consideration of the Bill.
Mr Jones: I also
want to be able to question the Minister on this.
Chair: The Committee hears that. Now,
Q126 Bob Russell: One thing I
am confident of is that serving and former Members of Her Majesty's
Armed Forces will not be overly impressed with the party political
posturing and point scoring that has been going on from one direction.
I want to put on record the fact that the previous Government
did a lot of good work and this Bill is a continuation of that.
We should look on it as a seamless transition rather than anything
else. That is how I am trying to address it.
One aspect not in the Bill, which I seek some
thoughts on, is an issue that I put directly to the Prime Minister
a few weeks ago. To my utter amazement, a war widow's pension
is taxed. Indeed, a young war widow in my constituency tells me
that the payment does not even appear as a war widow's payment.
There are two aspects there. First, can we have a mechanism to
acknowledge that the payment she is receiving is a war widow's
pension? Secondly, it should be tax free.
Mr Garrett: Under the War Pensions
Scheme neither war pensions nor war widow's pensions are considered
taxable by HMRC, so I don't understand the point you are making.
The issue of what that payment was in relation to, and whether
it was a war widows' pension, was raised yesterday in the statutory
body that looks at issues of compensation and pensionsthe
Central Advisory Commission on Pensions and Compensation. The
matter was raised by the War Widows Association at that meeting.
On the Service pensions, the Veterans Agency
went away from that meeting to ensure that all payment information
provided for widows made it clear to them what payments they were
Q127 Bob Russell: I am most grateful
for that. Perhaps I can revisit the matter, because the young
lady in my constituency is not of that view.
Mr Garrett: If there is some confusion,
and if you can provide information on the individual case, we
can look at it.
Q128 Bob Russell: I will, and
I appreciate that. Finally, in what ways are the Bill Team and
others in the Ministry of Defence and the Government engaged with
the charity and voluntary sector to improve the Bill? I am not
just talking about the main charities that we know about, such
as the Royal British Legion; ABF, which I wish would still call
itself the Army Benevolent Fund; Help for Heroes; and SSAFA, but
some of the specialist charities, if I may use that term. One
has been mentioned alreadythe War Widows Associationand
there is Veterans Aid and Combat Stress. There are also various
regimental and Service organisations. How are those organisations
being brought in?
Mr Lewitt: The organisation with
which Mr Garrett's division, and mine, do a lot of business is
the Confederation of British Service and Ex-Service OrganisationsCOBSEO.
It pulls together all those charities, large and small. Indeed,
it has recently proposed an arrangement that it calls clustering,
whereby it will provide in each of the main charity areas a group
of charities that have an interest in that area, and one of the
larger charities will act as a lead partner for the cluster. That
has proved useful to us in the area in which I am working at the
momenttrying to increase financial awareness among Service
personnel, and providing better financial guidance and advice
to those most vulnerable, such as early leavers and the injured.
We have used the COBSEO arrangements to start to move forward
in agreement with a number of charities and, if we can make that
work, it will probably be led by the RBL. It should also include
a number of other charities, such as the White Ensign Association,
That is an example of how the new thinkingI
hesitate to use the word "reform"; it is the wrong wordthat
COBSEO is bringing to the area enables us to match, almost, the
wants of Service and ex-Service personnel with the benevolence
of charities that exist to support those groups of people. Jeff,
should I have said something different, or else?
Chair: What a wonderful person, to ask
Mr Garrett: Sounds very accurate,
Mr Lowe: If I may add one quick
thought. To spare Mr Lewitt's blushes, because he runs it, we
also have an annual welfare conference. That is an opportunity
for, perhaps, some of the regimental associations and some of
the smaller charities that may not otherwise be involved in these
discussions to come to the Ministry of Defence to hear what is
happening in the welfare domain and feed their concerns back to
us. That is an extra way we can consult directly with some of
the smaller organisations.
Q129 Chair: Okay. Thank you to
all of you, not least to you, Air Commodore Wilcock, for your
contribution this morning. Mr Barlow, is there anything you would
like to add?
Mr Barlow: We covered one question
very briefly in the first session, where I noted that Air Commodore
Wilcock might be able to give the Committee further advice.
Chair: I know you did, but I've forgotten
what it was.
Mr Barlow: It was about drug testing
and the doctor-patient relationship, where a Service doctor was
taking a sample.
Q130 Chair: Yes. Air Commodore
Wilcock, is there a problem with a doctor who is involved in giving
normal treatment to a patient also being required to do drug tests
on that person? The BMA has raised with us the possibility that
it should be a forensic physician, and we asked whether that was,
in fact, practical. Would you care to help us through this?
Air Commodore Wilcock: Thank you.
There is a tension, and the MoD recognises the tension that the
BMA has raised. Our response would be that in the normal circumstance
in the UK, if I can take that as an example, where a forensic
medicine service exists to support police investigation, we would
naturally prefer to defer to that service. In that circumstance,
we would not normally ask the MoD's uniformed doctors to take
samples for forensic purposes. However, as was alluded to earlier
this morning, there are circumstances where that won't apply,
such as on operations, where the only available medical practitioners
are the uniformed doctors. That gives rise to the dual loyalty
problem that the BMA has identified.
We are able to say that that is not a new issue
in military medicine; we recognise it routinely, and it is part
of our normal practice, in that we deal with both general practice
and occupational health care in our primary care delivery system.
So, our practitioners understand the need to be able to wear two
hats at any one time. If there were a circumstance where a doctor
was the primary care deliverer, and was then asked to take forensic
samples, they would have to make it very clear to their patient
that they were acting in a different capacityand of course,
the normal consent processes would apply.
So, although we recognise the tension and respect
the BMA's view that there should be separation of the roles wherever
possible, we would have to reserve the right to say that it is
not always possible, and therefore, we could not enshrine that
particular principle in law.
Q131 Chair: Except in some circumstances,
of course, the patient might not be in a condition to give consent.
Air Commodore Wilcock: Yes, in
which case, again, we would acknowledge the point that is made,
which is that if samples are taken, they should be taken only
for storage purposes, with the expectation that if the patient
recovers to the point that they have the capacity to consent,
that discussion can be had at a later date.
Chair: I see.
Air Commodore Wilcock: So again,
we would apply the normal recognised principles and practice.
Chair: Thank you very much, and you have