Examination of Witnesses (Questions 367-404)
Q367 Chair: Let us begin. Thank
you very much for giving evidence. You may all have been listening
to at least most of that. It will not be necessary for you all
to comment on everything, but if you have things that you would
like to add to the evidence that we have already heard, that would
be helpful. We are most grateful to you for coming to give evidence.
Please introduce yourselves.
Dawn McCafferty: I am Dawn McCafferty.
I am Chairman of the RAF Families Federation, which is an independent
organisation parented by the RAF Association. I have been in this
job since 2007.
Julie McCarthy: My name is Julie
McCarthy, and I am Chief Executive of the Army Families Federation.
Kim Richardson: I am Kim Richardson,
Chair of the Naval Families Federation.
John Moore-Bick: John Moore-Bick.
I am General Secretary of the Forces Pension Society, which is
not a charity. It is a not-for-profit company constituted as a
membership society. Our members are serving, retired, associated,
related and sympathetic. We carry the interests of the Armed Forces
pension community, which numbers up to 1 million people. I am
delighted to be here with the Families Federations today, because
I want to underline the point that pensions are husband and wife
affairsthey are whole family affairsand we must
consider that in this context.
Q368 Chair: Many of the questions
will be repeats of the earlier ones. How do you expect this Bill
to impact on the Service personnel and their families. Who would
like to begin?
Kim Richardson: I would say that,
if you asked the standard family in the street, they probably
wouldn't say that they have a lot of knowledge about the Armed
Forces Bill. It is something that happens every five years. Things
change. By nature, we accept change and we move forward. In the
seven years that I have been doing this job, no one has ever mentioned
the Armed Forces Bill to me.
Q369 Chair: I think we all accept
that most people will be unaware that this Bill existsthroughout
the country and the Armed Forces. Nevertheless, the contents of
this Bill may affect the lives of Service personnel. How do you
feel about that?
Dawn McCafferty: What we would
like to see is that the Covenant, in whatever way it is enshrined
in law and with whatever words you want to use, does actually
make a difference at a grass-roots level. We are looking to go
below the legislation and the Covenant and focus on the measures,
because that's what will make the difference. If you ask personnel
in the RAF what they know about the Service Personnel Command
Paper and the Military or Armed Forces Covenant, like Kim, I think
they would say that they have very little awareness, but there
is a feeling that there is a need for fair treatment.
At the moment, there is a real feeling within
the Armed Forces that they are being battered from all sides.
Whilst it is not the best time to launch a Covenant that says,
"Your Government values you and wants to look after you,"
when they are in the middle of a redundancy programme and base
closures, etc., the very fact that this is being taken forward
to underpin future work and to take forward what has already
been done is very important. It is for usthe Families Federationsin
liaison with the chain of command to get the message across to
our families that this is important and it could, if properly
resourced, deliver some significant change.
Julie McCarthy: I completely support
what Dawn said. This is much more about what the deliverables
are. In the Army, we have talked about the Military Covenant a
lot. It is something that has very much come from the Army, and
expanding it to the Armed Forces is a very good idea. But I would
also say that fine words will not deliver the housing, the education
and the health care that we discussed earlier. It is very much
about those actions. If we are going to report on it, it is very
much about what the Report comes out with and what the actions
are, rather than just putting words within the Bill.
Kim Richardson: Can I caveat that
and just say that, until something actually impacts on you as
a family, you don't tend to go and look for this sort of stuff?
We found that with the Command Paper. Until people need one particular
aspect of it and to get their head around it and make it work
for them, they don't tend to go looking for it.
John Moore-Bick: The progression
of this Armed Forces Bill, including debate on the Covenant, will
help us all come to a common understanding of what the Covenant
is. I was part of the Chief of General Staff's original team working
on the Covenant in 1997, and it was a very academic concept. The
leader of that was Professor Richard Holmes and it was drawn out
of history. It is a philosophical concept; it can never be a shopping
list. What will come from this is an understanding that the Covenant
extends in its reach from the newest child of a Service family
to the 105-year-old pensioner who I am looking after in hospital
at the moment. It is a very wide, embracing concept with two sides.
The side that is assuming responsibility may also have the right
to say to those for whom it's responsible, "Look, we think
you're not meeting your side of the concept." So it is a
two way thing. It is a philosophical concept and we need to get
to a common understanding of it, especially if we want to enshrine
any regime in law.
Q370 Mr Jones: It has been spun
that this Bill will enshrine the Covenant in law, which clearly
it doesn't. In terms of practical things that you want to see
out of the Reportobviously, three areas are covered herewhat
else is there, or what do you see as being the benefits of the
Julie McCarthy: One of the things
that concerns me about the report is if we take the three headings,
"healthcare," "housing" and "education,"
the Report will comment on the commitmentsthe Coalition's
commitmentsto the Military at the moment. It doesn't necessary
look inwards. We may talk about local connections and helping
with house purchase, but will we talk about the Defence Estate
and look internally? To me, that is a fundamental pillar of the
Armed Forces Covenant. We should be providing our people with
good, decent accommodation, which we are not doing at the moment,
but that will probably not come into the Report. The same could
be said for education and housing. I will pick up the points from
the previous panel about it being very difficult. The Devolved
Administrations are very good and ping some extra things in that
don't necessarily reflect what is going on in England itself.
What any report would have to do is not only look at the commitments
that have been made, but consider what is and is not being done
internally on those areas.
Dawn McCafferty: I'd like to see
any report sweep up all the various strands of work that have
led us to where we are today. We've got the commitments from the
Service Personnel Command Paper, some of which are still to be
implemented. The Service Families Employment Skills and Task Force
Report made recommendations that we are committed to monitor.
There are obviously the Coalition's commitments, some of which
have been introduced and others that need to be monitored to ensure
that they are implemented.
Then, of course, there is an awful lot of work
within Professor Strachan's report, which we have yet to see the
response to. In some ways, it is a shame that we haven't seen
the response to the report, because there is a lot in there. We
helped influence that report, and there is a lot that we want
to see taken forward. I for one want to see that reflected in
the Annual Report, whatever form it takes. We can have arguments
about its independence, but as long as the content is there, we
can start to really have an influence over measuring progress.
So there is an awful lot of work going on, but
we need to ensure that it is captured. We need to be sure that
we can influence the content of that report, to make sure that
certain things that are, perhaps, little too difficult or require
too many resources, or where there is a lack of appetite to go
into certain areas, that we are able to ensure that it goes on
to the agenda.
Kim Richardson: I would just add
that whatever we do, it has to be meaningful and achievable, and
we cannot exceed expectations. Our families are a bit worn out
with raised expectations, and we need to be realistic in whatever
we do. That is very important.
John Moore-Bick: I see no mention
of pensions anywhere. Pay and pensions are the two sides of the
same coin. You can never talk about one without talking about
the other. They are both the bedrock of trust. Reports of any
sorteither Service Personnel Command Paper, the work of
the ERG or this workif it does not mention pay and pensions,
it does not hit the key notes that people want to see.
Q371 Chair: Expectations. Do you
think there is a risk that this Bill, or this clause, will create
expectations that might not be met?
Kim Richardson: I think so. We
have to be careful. I have been doing this job for seven years
now. On the upside, I would never have said seven years ago that
I would be sitting here today. We have progressed and we have
moved forward. We have achieved a lot for our families. But I
would also say that during those seven years expectations have
been raised in certain areas. Housing and Service families accommodation
is one. We have not met those expectations. In fact, we have taken
a backward step. I think that families are feeling very bruised
at the moment, particularly Royal Navy and Royal Marines families.
They have had a bit of a double whammy. Whatever you do today,
whatever you decide, my plea would be not to promise anything
that you cannot deliver.
Julie McCarthy: I come at that
from a slightly different angle from Kim. I would say that we
should raise those expectations, and we should be holding the
Government of the day to account no matter what colour they are,
saying, "This is what we expect." There may be reasons
why, at the moment, they are not delivering it, but that should
be the aspiration and we should keep pushing. My concern is that
if we do not raise expectations on housing, the budget will disappear.
We need to keep pushing, and questions need to keep being asked.
At the moment, it is only the Families Federations asking those
Q372 Christopher Pincher: At the
risk of repeating myself, the one element of the Bill that is
to be enshrined in law is the requirement on the Secretary of
State to report to Parliament on those three areashousing,
health care and education. There seems to be an acceptance from
the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, who appeared before us
the other day, and from the Royal British Legion that those three
core pillars should be included. I suspect, Mr Moore-Bick, that
you are going to say that pensions should also be included as
John Moore-Bick: May I make a
comment on that? We used to tell people that we dealt with 400
cases a month. That has shot up to 600 cases a month. That gives
you a good barometer of the concern and worry that there is about
pensions. For years and years, it was the bedrock of trust. Now
we have had a go at it and rattled it, and people are worried.
I think that they should be included.
Q373 Christopher Pincher: You
also heard that when Gavin Barlow gave evidence at the meeting
before last, he made it clear that he anticipates that within
the three pillars, plus the dynamic fourth pillar, plus any other
pillars that might be created, both qualitative and quantitative
targets would be set, which could be measured over a set of reports
to demonstrate whether progress is being made. Do you think that
is a sensible and sufficiently flexible approach?
Dawn McCafferty: One of the challenges
is where you start measuring. I think that was the challenge with
a lot of the Service Personnel Command Paper stuff. We did not
have a particularly great database of evidence on which to say,
"Where are we measuring our progress from?" So I think
that will be the challenge, when you actually identify areas of
work you want to take forwardfor instance, to support Service
families, whether in transition, housing or welfareand
to define the start point and then set a reasonable, realistic,
achievable target that, as we say, does not raise expectations
too far, but does push the fact that we need to make progress
and recognise the unique nature of family life.
I would like to see measures in the Report,
and I would like to be able to provide evidence. I would say that
the Families Federations can provide meaningful evidence to inform
that Report, but we need to be consulted. When the Bill was put
to us, I do not think the fact that those three areas were highlighted
came as a surprise to the three of us, but we were not asked whether
we thought they were the right ones. I heard you earlier going
through another list of potential areas that might go through
in an amendment, and I for one would say I would like a little
time to look at that, because I could probably identify some others.
I particularly welcome the catch-all of having
that flexible pillar that says, "And anything else that members
of the Reference Group"be they independent members
or administration members"feel is important to include."
I think that is what we are asking foran opportunity to
influence that, so that it is not just what the Secretary of State
says: "I am going to report on this and I am not interested
in what your particular agendas might be."
Julie McCarthy: I think it is
also about practical application. We can have the policieswe
have had fantastic news recently about pupil premium for Service
children, which will go a long way to help schools. There are
some schoolsI know that in Tidworth, with 96% Service childrenthat
will spend that money wisely. Other schools have few Service children
and there are no guidelines or rules about what the money will
be spent on. It could go on a new staff-room tableI hope
it does notbut there are no guidelines for that money.
So the policy has been very good, but we need to measure the practical
Q374 Christopher Pincher: Just
in terms of the Reportperhaps you will like to comment
on thiscan I put it to you that having a sensible base
line set, from which you can then demonstrate progress and focus
minds, within the MoD, Parliament and outside, is a more sensible
approach than the extremely prescriptive one about what rules
and regulations should apply. Would that be right?
Dawn McCafferty: Yes.
Julie McCarthy: Yes.
Kim Richardson: One size doesn't
fit all. Each of our families are absolutely individual in the
way they choose to live their lives, so I would see as positive
anything that can make that as flexible as possible.
Q375 Bob Russell: This is to Julie
McCarthy, but it also applies to the other two ladies as well.
You mentioned the pupil premium. I wonder if you could submit
a paper to the Committee, because my understanding is that it
is just possible that the criteria under which children benefit
from the pupil premium may not include children of Military families
unless certain criteria are met. I would like to know how we may
have to square that circle. In my mind, the turbulence factors
and so on for children of Military families are such that they
are exactly the sort of people who should receive pupil premium,
but as things stand that may not happen.
Chair: Now as regards submitting papers,
we don't want to add to the burden on the charitable sector; so
do that only if it were something you could do without being disproportionate.
Q376 Bob Russell: If you can provide
the answer now, brilliant; but I suspect it needs a wee bit of
Julie McCarthy: My understanding
is that as long as a child is registered as a Service child on
the school census the school receives the pupil premium. My concern
is that the standard admissions forms for schools do not include
a tick box that says, "Are you a Service family?" Is
it for the school to ask or the family to volunteer that information?
That's the bigger concern for me.
Dawn McCafferty: The other concern
as well is that there was quite a short of period of time in which
to get parents to register. Julie has raised the fact that maybe
families haven't initially registered themselves as a Service
family for whatever reason, and we have had a major campaign to
try and ensure that our families were aware that if they wished
to they should register because then they could get additional
funds into the school. There was quite a short window in which
to register, so we may find that actually the take-up is bigger
next year when they've got more time to go through the registration
process. But, as Julie says, I think the key thing for us is perhaps
to go and gather that evidence in the schools as to what they
are doing with that money. For example, there is a school near
us where my child goesCranwell Primary Schoolwhere
there is a very high percentage of RAF children. We are confident
that the headmaster has got projects in place that he will want
funding for to support the children of deployed RAF families.
But in other schools with smaller populations, that money could
just get lost in the noise, and that is not what it is intended
for. Perhaps those children who are in a minority in a large school
need even more support, because they do not have lots of mates
around them who are going through that same experience. So we
need to also follow through with our schools to say, "Exactly
what are you doing with the money that has been given to you?"
Q377 Gemma Doyle: To follow on
from Christopher's questionsif you were here for the session
before, you would have heard me ask this then as wellif
we are going to specify in the Bill the issues which the Secretary
of State should report on, do you think that that list should
be more reflective of the Secretary of State's own responsibilities
within the MoD, and as such extended to cover, for example, pay
and pensions, issues about the compensation scheme, employment
and trainingthose kinds of things?
Julie McCarthy: I would say most
definitely; it is a bit disingenuous to comment about people leaving
being able to buy houses again when the housing estate is
deteriorating, so I think absolutely the Secretary of State should
be looking internally as well, because that is a complete side
of the triangle if you are looking at the Covenant. He should
comment on this.
Dawn McCafferty: To take an example
of that from the Service Personnel Command Paper: all the references
to housing were to do with housing provision externally in terms
of housing associations' access, etc. There was nothing in there
about Defence Estates and provision of the MoD Housing Estate,
which is obviously a huge concern to us. So I would agree that
if it is not in the list in the Bill, it is something that we
would want to bring to the table in respect of Terms and Conditions
of Service, welfare and MoD responsibility for housing, because
that is our core business.
Q378 Chair: Mr Moore-Bick, you
said you said you thought pensions should be in the Bill.
John Moore-Bick: I think so, because
there is so much concern at the moment that there ought to be
some responsibility laid on the Secretary of State to tell Parliament
about the whole pay and pensions area. The Armed Forces Pay Review
Body is a very fair medium on the pay side, but there is nobody
prepared to talkin a climate of almost frenetic pensions
debateabout the Armed Forces and pensions. That ought to
Q379 Chair: What about allowances?
John Moore-Bick: I am not competent
to speak on allowances, but I think the Federations are.
Dawn McCafferty: There are elements
of the allowances package that are the responsibility of the Armed
Forces Pay Review Body, and we inform them of our views, but there
are other aspects that are not.
Julie McCarthy: I would like to
see the Secretary of State commenting on those; I feel at the
moment, with the allowance cuts in January and the review of the
continuity of education allowance going on at the moment, many
families feel that there is a consistent erosion of their terms
and conditions of Service. If the Secretary of State had to comment
on that in the Report, and there was a proper cross-party debate
on it, that would be useful and would make Service personnel and
their families feel that it was being widely discussed and fair
decisions were being made.
Dawn McCafferty: If I can come
back to the pensions issue: I have only been doing this for three
and a half years, but pensions did not feature at all in any of
our issues database casework until the last six to eight months.
When we have been out doing workshops at unit level, we have started
to hear people expressing concern about what is happening on the
pensions front. We tend to signpost to our experts at the end
of the table, but it has been quite a noticeable change of emphasis
that people are beginning to look at the wider package. As Julie
says, they see it as part and parcel of this erosion of their
terms and conditions.
Q380 Gemma Doyle: As UK-wide organisations,
would you share my concern that it would be regrettable if the
Bill did not include any issues on which the Secretary of State
had to report which applied to Scottish or Welsh veterans, which
is the case at the moment?
Kim Richardson: What the External
Reference Group has allowed us to do is develop relationships
not only with other Government Departments, but also with Wales
and Scotland. It is fair to say that the Welsh Assembly has really
grabbed that and moved forward with it. We have families living
in Scotland and, coming back to the pupil premium, within a day
of that being announced, the first e-mail I got was from Faslane
in Scotland saying, "What about us?" They sometimes
feel slightly marginalised when they see the way things are being
delivered in England, so anything we can do to take that north
of the border, and west, we should be doing.
Dawn McCafferty: Our earlier colleagues
spoke of the strengths of the External Reference Group in terms
of sitting at the table with Devolved Administrations and Government
Administration officials, and we as a Federation have really welcomed
the opportunity to engage at that level. I for one feel we are
a respected and welcome member of that group. As Kim says, we
have been invited to go to the expert group in Wales and give
evidence there. There is sometimes a lack of awareness of what
the military lifestyle is from a family or veteran perspective,
and it is great to have the opportunity to take our evidence to
a much broader audience than Kim might have been able to seven
years ago. We are in a completely different ballpark, and that
engagement must continue.
Kim Richardson: I would add the
words, "receptive audience". For the first time, people
are asking what Service families are all aboutthey really
want to get usand while that door is open, we need to be
knocking on it.
Q381 Gemma Doyle: A final question
if I may: would you welcome the External Reference Group having
an input into what issues would be in the Report, rather than
simply the Secretary of State deciding what issues he or she would
report to Parliament on?
Dawn McCafferty: I think that
is critical. If we felt that the Secretary of State was dictating
what those issues were and we weren't being listened to then I
think each of us would find our own way of making our voice heard.
John Moore-Bick: I think the External
Reference Group is quite exclusive. I am reliant on the chairman
of COBSEO to put anything from my area into it, so we might need
to look at the External Reference Group again.
Q382 Mr Francois: The previous
witnesses were all quite positive about the work of the External
Reference Group in terms of co-ordinating the work of different
Government Departments and delivering at ground levelwhich
I think is partly what you were talking about. I take it you all
very much support what it does. While we have you here, if it
were to evolve beyond its original statutory purpose, which was
not directly related to the Covenant, and you had your own way,
how would you see the ERG evolve further, and how do you think
it could add more value than it appears to be doing now?
Dawn McCafferty: This answer should
be attributed to Julie McCarthy - my answer is below. We have
made representations to the Local Government Association and I
would very much like to see it getting down into those sorts of
levels as well, whether it is through a single representative
or whether we go out separately. I think the advocates from the
other Government Departments find it very difficultthey
represent their own Departments very well, very strongly, and
do engage with us. I am not sure if it was Tony Stables or Chris
Simpkins who mentioned the independent nature, but I'm not sure
we are an independent External Reference Group. We are independent
panel members, and for the Report going forward I would like to
see those independent members deciding what should be reported
on, rather than the External Reference Group as a whole. But we
would need to change the terms of reference if we were to include
the Armed Forces Bill work going on.
Kim Richardson: We also ought
to ask the other Government Departments who else they feel they
would benefit from having on that Group, because they have opened
that door and engaged, but there must be other areas that they
feel are not representedthey're almost sitting at the table
because they have to be thereso I think we need to be asking
the question of them as well.
Dawn McCafferty: One thing to
develop is the visits to the Armed Forces community that the ERG
undertake, which have happened throughout the development of that
groupI think it is the RAF's turn next. It is great to
have the opportunity to take people, very often from completely
non-military backgrounds, to an RAF, Army or Navy base and let
them engage with family members, see what people are actually
doing, and talk to them. That aspect of what we doit is
not in the terms of referenceis very healthy. It is a good
exchange of views and I really feel that empathy and understanding
is the way forward to make sure people understand what we are
asking for. We are not asking for special treatment; we are just
asking for understanding and a fair playing field most of the
John Moore-Bick: We in the COBSEO
executive committee must see how the views of the various organisations
of the committee are brought into the work of the ERG, and that
is internal work for us to do.
Q383 Gemma Doyle: How would you
respond to the evidence from the Bill Team that the Report of
the Secretary of State is going to replace the Report of the ERG,
and that that will now be lost?
Dawn McCafferty: That is a work
in progress. We have discussed that only very recently in the
ERG and we all gave our views and expressed some concerns that
we had about our lack of independence and ability to influence
it. I thought that we had agreedI may be wrongthat
we would take it forward to try to draft the first Annual Report,
bearing in mind that it is an annual report on something that
does not exist at the moment. We are breaking new territory with
We have done two other annual reports, and I
have to say that I think the way they were drafted and staffed,
and the way we were consulted and our views were taken into account
was very good, bearing in mind that it is a compromiseTony
Stables made it clear that there are many constituents of the
Armed Forces community, and that there has to be a compromise.
You cannot fit everything into a report. It cannot be hugely family-biased
or veteran-biased. There has to be balance in the report, and
I think they managed to achieve that, certainly with the first
Annual Report. The second one was less in-depth because of the
change in Administration.
We just have to see how the drafting goes forward,
and have a little bit of faith in the Cabinet Office and the MoD,
but we are all bright enough and strong enough personalities to
step back if we do not like what is coming out in draft. We can
draw a line and say that we need another opportunity, either to
have our own chapter, to have a covering letter or to have a separate
report. I would not want to define right now what we will do or
what the Report should look like. I really think we have to have
a bit of time to work it through as a group, because you can already
see that there are differences between the independent members
in our views on the Report. We have to work out between us how
we want to shape it.
Q384 Mr Ellwood: You mentioned
the size of the Report, which provides a useful opportunity for
asking what is currently expected to be in the Report itself.
You mentioned pensions as being something new that has been coming
across your desk recently and which you are passing on. Looking
at the three headingshealth care, housing and educationthat
already exist, in your experience are they the correct main headings?
Is that where you are spending your time? Are Service personnel
aware that those are the main concerns that you can provide help
Kim Richardson: We are in a strange
place at the moment because there are lots of things on the way,
and we do not know how they will impact on families. While I would
say that those three things are reflected in the sorts of things
we see, I would agree with Dawn that for the first time families
are talking about pensions. I have never heard that before, and
I think that it is because they are seen as another thing on top
of everything else that they have experienced to date. I do not
think that we can stovepipe or put our markers in the sand, because
the next few months will be very interesting for our families
and we might find that something develops on transitioning out
of the Service that we had not considered before. We have to keep
our eye on the ball, as we always do, sit in mess decks, talk
to sailors and families and determine over the next few months
where we are going.
Q385 Mr Ellwood: I do not know
whether I am a reflection of the attitude, but when I served in
the Armed Forces, I did not think about what I was going to do
on the other side of leaving the Armed Forces until the last point.
I think that many soldiers, sailors and airmen do exactly the
sameI am as disorganised as the next person. Are personnel
more conscious now of the parameters in which they are working
and what they should be expecting in the future, considering the
higher profile that our Armed Forces are taking because of their
duties and the consequences of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in
Kim Richardson: I think there
is a sense of nervousness at the moment. There are people out
there who do not know what the future holds for them, and that
is not a good place to be. I can identify with your view about
building up to leaving the Service, seeing civvy street as something
that perhaps it is not, and not necessarily doing the planning.
The people who often end up doing the planning are the family
behind the serving person, and at the moment we really need to
consider them more than we ever have before. All of you need to
consider them more than you ever have before, because they are
really special people making that difference on a day-to-day basis.
Q386 Mr Ellwood: So to break the
transition down, before they actually turn into a veteran, which
is when you traditionally think support should come in, the family
needs to start planning. The individual, perhaps, tries to dismiss
that, but it should be done while they are still serving. You
would suggest that that is not in place to the level that it should
be, that the focus of attention while people are serving is not
Dawn McCafferty: There is a very
good system in place. The serving person can take good advantage
of a resettlement process that can start as early as two years
before a known exit date. The problem is that they may not yet
know that they are exiting. They're sitting there at the moment,
hoping to get further Service and avoid redundancy, but they don't
know yet. They don't whether their base is going to close. They
don't whether their partner is going to lose their civil service
job etc. This horrible climate of uncertainty is really corrosive
to morale. Clarity is required and, as you say, then we need to
look at what we are doing to support those people who now find
themselves, at quite short notice, potentially having to find
a new career.
I talk with journalists and they say, "Well,
why are you any different? Lots of other, civilian organisations
are facing redundancies and pay freezes etc." They don't
realise the link very often between the Service person and the
home and family, in that if you lose your job, you lose your home
as well. You're going to be evicted from Defence Estates property.
You'll have to go and find a job. You may need to relocate back
to where you joined the Armed Forces from, or try to establish
a new career in a new part of the country. People just need to
get their head around that. It's what makes it so difficult to
transition. As I said, there is a very good process in place for
the serving person. We need perhaps to consider how we can enhance
support for the partners and children behind that.
Julie McCarthy: Spouses may have
chequered CVs, and it may be two people going out and finding
a new job. When somebody leaves the Service, it is not just the
Service man finding a new job; it is both people going out there.
That adds to the difficulty.
John Moore-Bick: That last bit
is the core of "The Unique Nature of Military Service",
which I know Tony Stables has told you about this morning. That
is a COBSEO document that lies at the root of the Covenant and
covers all the things that Dawn McCafferty was just talking about.
If I can go back to your Service, my Service,
we never, ever considered the pension until the time came to go.
That was because we could take it for granted. Now, people can't
take it for granted. Our message to Service men is that at any
stage in their career, not just when they are resettling, if they
fail to consider their pension entitlement and conditions, they
cannot make the decision whether to go for the next stage of promotion,
to move or to stop where they are because of a spouse's job or
anything of that sort. Pension considerations, which used to be
left until the last minute, now have to come into play at other
critical stages of life, and there is a greater awareness of that.
Q387 Mr Ellwood: On pensions,
I just note, Chairman, that I was asked about my pension when
I left and I was given the opportunity to continue it as a pension
or to be given it as a lump sum there and then. I just took the
moneyit's the only time in my life I've not been in debt.
But there is a balance you need to look at. I just took the money
Kim Richardson: Perhaps your wife
should have had some say.
John Moore-Bick: Perhaps I can
make that point. Our message to the Federations is that spouses
need to take a greater interest in this than their husbands. Their
husbands are too busy to worry about it. The spouses are the ones
who will take it for longer; they will suffer if it's not right;
and five sixths of them, I'm afraid, will end up as widows.
Dawn McCafferty: There is also
an awareness issue about what happens to a pension after divorce
and some serving personnel getting caught out, not realising that
their partner will have a claim on an element of their pension
when they leave. Again, there is now a growing awareness within
the serving community that pensions are important and need to
be considered earlier than perhaps they were in your time, Mr
Chair: That of itself is a welcome awareness.
Q388 Jack Lopresti: Have any of
your organisations done any specific research into what sort of
Military Covenant serving personnel would like to see?
Kim Richardson: The Royal Navy
has never, in my view, got its head round the Military Covenant.
It has been seen as an Army concept. One of the things I would
really like to say today is that we need to decide what this will
be called and to stick to it. We've already had the Service Personnel
Command Paper. We're now talking about the Military Covenant.
But some of the paperwork refers to an Armed Forces Covenant.
I believe this should be an Armed Forces Covenant, and if the
Army wants to stick with its military one, that's fine and dandy,
but let's decide what it is and then we can actually ask people
what they think of it. At the moment, if you sat down with a group
of sailors in a mess deck and asked them about the Military Covenant,
they would say, "Nothing to do with me. That's an Army concept."
Actually, what we're talking about today is very much to do with
them. That's my first plea: let's decide what we're going to call
it and stick with it.
Dawn McCafferty: We haven't done
any specific research, but there is a general awareness among
the serving population and families that there is this relationship
between the Nation, the communities and the Armed Forces that
they would wish to see in some way recognised. They are probably
not interested in whether that's done through an Armed Forces
Bill, but recognition of what they do is something that most Service
personnel would like to see. We have done no specific research
yet but, as Kim said, it would be great to actually define it.
Perhaps we can get the principles that the RBL representative
was talking about distilled, then we can go and ask people what
they think of them and find out whether those are the right principles.
Kim Richardson: When the Service
Command Paper was introduced, it was fascinating, because you
would go out and say to a group of families or serving personnel,
"What does the Service Command Paper mean to you?" The
answer was, "Nothing." If you started to pick out the
strands of the Command Paper and talk about them as individual
things, they got it. They had heard about it and they knew what
it was. Did they ever associate the two? No. We have to get that
right this time, or we are in danger of really losing something
John Moore-Bick: Can I go back
to the origins of the Covenant? The reason that we did so much
work on it in the Army, in the late '90s, was to form the framework
in which we could define a code of conduct for the Army. The origins
of the Covenant were the opposite way round to the way that we
are now interpreting it. It wasn't, "The Government must
give this"; it was saying, "You, in your code of conduct,
must meet your part of the Covenant to do this". It was,
and is, infused in Army doctrine in order to persuade soldiers
of their duties and why their duty to society is such. It is opposite
to the way that we are talking about the Covenant now. That's
the other part of it.
Q389 Jack Lopresti:
I picked up from the last panel that they weren't in favour
of the Covenant being too specifically defined and prescriptive
of minimum standards. Would that be your view: that you would
prefer it to be broader and more adaptive?
John Moore-Bick: I liked what
I heard about a set of principles. I think that is gooda
set of principles with very wide boundaries, from the youngest
newborn child of a Service family, as I said earlier, to the 105-year-old
widow that I'm looking after at the moment.
Dawn McCafferty: It is about the
generic style of a Covenant that allows us flexibility, so that
you can work within the spirit of the Covenant, but not necessarily
to the letter of the law that has been written downI think
that would be too prescriptive. We found that with the Command
Paper. We had an opportunitythere were specific measures
that we were monitoring, and we would report and give evidence
against them, but if there was something that was allied to that
area, we could bring that to the table and ask if that could also
be considered. If you make it too prescriptive, the answer would
be "Oh no, that is not what the Covenant is about."
So, I would prefer to see something generic as the framework document,
but then, the devil is in the detail of the measures. This comes
back to that table of measures, and to working out exactly what
it is we're measuring. Where do we start, and what evidence is
required in order to inform a report?
Q390 Chair: John Moore-Bick, were
you in at the birth of the Covenant?
John Moore-Bick: Yes, I was, Mr
Q391 Chair: What was the date
of that birth, would you say?
John Moore-Bick: It was around
1997. The reason for it was that there had been a lot of examples
of bad behaviour by all sorts of armies in the Balkans. We wanted
to get a code of conduct in place for the Army. We looked for
academic help and there was this idea of a Covenant, which meant
giving your Service and accepting, unquestioningly, the loyalty
and support of the State in various things. As I say, it was started
as a foundation for the code of conduct.
Q392 Chair: Isn't it generally
attributed to Field Marshal Inge, in the genesis of this?
John Moore-Bick: I think he was
the Chief of the Defence Staff at the time. I think Roger Wheeler
was the Chief of the General Staff.
Chair: Yes, I see.
Q393 Bob Russell: Very briefly,
although there are clearly differences between the Services, there
are many similarities, particularly when it comes to the families
of Service personnel. Although you are three separate groups,
do you actually work with unity, strength and all that? Each of
you individually do a grand job, but do you come together and
put pressure on the MoD and whatever?
Kim Richardson: We do. When we
need to, we do, but I would say that our main objective is to
represent our own constituents, and our constituents are, as you
say, very different. We respect that, so the relationship between
the three of usI thinkis better than it has ever
been, because we talk and exchange ideas. We don't always agree,
but that's fine.
Q394 Bob Russell: But you are
sharing experiences and best practice, which is really the point.
Thank you for that. My last question is, do you individually and
collectively feel that there is sufficient engagement with the
line of command and the Ministry of Defence?
Julie McCarthy: I do, personally.
I have very good engagement at all levels and have co-ordinators
across the world. The chain of command within the Army generally
liaise very well, because they see that the welfare of families
is key to the welfare and operational effectiveness of their soldiers.
So I would say yes, up to and including into the MoD as well,
and that is very important.
Dawn McCafferty: I think that
our engagement is where I would want it to be, and the ERG is
a very important part for us. To be able to look our families
in the eye and say, "When you give us evidence we take it,
undiluted, to the top," is really important to us.
Kim Richardson: We have direct
and open access, and for me that is from the First Sea Lord down,
so I can't complain. If I go somewhere and the door is not quite
as open as I would like it to be, I can always keep going up,
but on the whole we don't have to. I see us very much as being
a conduit for our families, and I don't think that they've ever
been in such a good place in terms of access.
John Moore-Bick: We advise all
the Chiefs of Staff on their pensions, so we get very close co-operation
from the chain of command.
Q395 Chair: Do you feel that you
have that direct and open access?
John Moore-Bick: To the chain
of command, and with the Ministry of Defence it ebbs and flows.
Chair: We will move away from the issue
of the Covenant to the issue of the Service complaints procedure.
Q396 Alex Cunningham: How well
do you think the complaints system that was recently introduced
in the previous Armed Forces Bill has been functioning? Is it
fit for purpose? In particular, has the introduction of Service
Complaints Panels improved the perception of the fairness and
independence of the system?
Julie McCarthy: It is difficult
for us to comment on the Service Complaints Panel, but having
a Service Complaints Commissioner in place has been a great improvement.
It is still very difficult for families to complain about things
within Service that they are concerned about, because it is very
allied to the chain of command. For them to take anything forward,
it needs to go through the serving soldier. It is good that Service
personnel, and families if they feel that the Service person needs
to make a complain, can go to someone independent, but I would
just like to see a lot more resources for Dr Atkins to do the
job that she needs to do.
Q397 Alex Cunningham: So, more
resources, but what else needs to happen?
Dawn McCafferty: There needs to
be more authority to her role, because at the moment there is
a perception, I think, from some who wish to make a complaint,
that it is just going to be referred back to the chain of command
and you are basically asking them to judge their own decisions.
The independent Panels have been a good step
forward, and Dr Atkins has brought a much-needed focus on the
Tri-Service complaints arena. One thing that she has really been
able to focus on is delay. One of the big things about making
a complaint is that in the past there were very significant delays,
which caused enormous stress and difficulty. She has really kept
a focus on the Services, making sure that they look at a complaint
and deal with it as speedily as they can.
That is an improvement, but I have had requests
from family members saying, "I want Dr Atkins and her team
to do the investigation. I don't want it to go back to the RAF
or MoD staffs; why can't she do it?" She does not, of course,
have that authority, and she certainly doesn't have the resources.
We meet with her reasonably frequently, just for an exchange of
views, ideas and experiences. I know that she has a huge backlog
of casework that she just can't keep up with, and that is of concern
because that backlog is individual people and families who have
an issue that they want to see resolved. Perhaps the answer isn't
what they want to hear at the end of the day, but they need to
go through that process. If she has a backlog, then by implication
the Services have as well.
Q398 Alex Cunningham: So what
sort of delay are people seeing?
Dawn McCafferty: I am not sure.
I would have to go back and ask her what stats she has. Certainly,
she told me that she had several hundred cases outstanding.
Alex Cunningham: Yes, she said that in
Q399 Chair: On that point, was
the delay, when she spoke to you about it, caused by a lack of
resources for her, or by a delay within the Armed Services in
dealing with her issues?
Dawn McCafferty: I don't know
for sure, but I would suggest that it is probably a combination
of the two. The Armed Forces are incredibly busy and very stretched,
and a complaints process stretches them even further because you
have to go through such a detailed process of disclosure and finding
evidence, and of then putting it through an administrative process.
So I suspect that it is a combination of the two: she perhaps
lacks the resources to get the complaint into the system in the
first place, and the Armed Forces need the resources to turn the
complaints around, do a proper, thorough investigation and come
up with a result.
Q400 Chair: The point she made
to us was that if there was one improvement she would like to
see in the Armed Forces, it was that they would deal with her
cases more quickly.
Dawn McCafferty: You would have
to ask her, but that is certainly the sort of information she
has given to us.
John Moore-Bick: She tells me
that a lot of people talk to her to let off steam on pay and pensions,
but they never actually launch a complaint through her, because
there is another system for doing that.
Kim Richardson: All I would add
is that we have a pretty good reciprocal arrangement. She directs
people to us, and we direct people to her. I go back to what I
said earlier about managing expectation. Certain serving members
expected her to deliver something that she was not put in place
Q401 Alex Cunningham: So there
is a lack of understanding?
Kim Richardson: I think so.
Q402 Alex Cunningham: So what
needs to happen?
Kim Richardson: It is early days,
and, again, it is one of those things that people only look for
when they feel that they need it. When they reach that point,
they are often past itthey need to look five minutes before.
So when they do go to look for it, they see it as a panacea, and
perhaps it is not. There may also have been something that they
could have done beforehand, perhaps through the chain of command,
that they had not necessarily considered. So I think it is back
to communication, making sure that they are given the right information
and managing expectations.
Alex Cunningham: It may well be the case
that you cannot answer that question, which we put to the other
panels, so we shall let it rest.
Q403 Chair: Thank you all very
much indeed. Is there anything we have not covered that you would
like to raise with us or emphasise?
Kim Richardson: I have one thing.
Towards the end, somebody asked about charities. I work in a building
with Royal Naval charities that are doing a sterling job. They
are not the big Gucci boys that you have had here today, but they
are doing a really good job. Although the well known names are
in the public eye and being seen, and money is heading in their
direction from the public, there are charities that have been
in place for a long time and are struggling in some areas. So,
although COBSEO speaks for charities, you are perhaps not getting
a complete picture.
Bob Russell: The point I was trying to
make is that we need to reflect and praise the charities at grass-roots
level. I would identify two specific charitiesthe War Widows
Association and Veterans Aidboth of which do valuable work.
They are very small, but they often do not get the credit they
Q404 Chair: Any other points?
Julie McCarthy: Mr Russell asked
about engagement with MPs, and I would suggest that it needs to
go even lower than that. Local councillors need to be engaged
with much more, because they deliver the local services. Having
recently moved from Berkshire down to Hampshire, I know that our
local council does not engage very much because it perceives families
and serving personnel to be very well looked after by the MoD,
so we are not its responsibility; whereas, actually, we arewe
are citizens first. For me, as the spouse of a serving person,
that is where the responsibility lies, and I would like to see
engagement with councils enhanced as much as engagement with MPs.
Dawn McCafferty: I would raise
the issue of the sensitivity of timing and communication. This
is not a good time to launch a Covenant. I know that we have to
go through the process, and I am delighted to see that work is
going on to legislate for it and allow us a mechanism to carry
on some very good work, but the average airman at grass-roots
level is not going to be particularly receptive to a big fanfare
for what we are doing to support a Covenant at this stage.
We have to be sensitive to communicating this
very carefully to a very bruised community, who, if they are worried
about whether they have a job or a home for the next year or so,
are not going to be interested, quite frankly, in the Covenant.
It is a building block for the future, and it is not going to
deliver immediate results. It is not necessarily going to stop
people from being made redundant or losing their home. So we have
to be really sensitive.
I spoke with the Chief of the Air Staff yesterday
and said that we need to have a robust communication channel.
We will contribute to that to make sure that we don't raise expectations
and, frankly, do not piss them all off, because this is not a
good time for the Armed Forces. A Covenant at this stage is not
necessarily what they want to hear.
John Moore-Bick: The pension scheme
has been in effect for nearly a century. With Lord Hutton working
on pensions now for the next 40 or 50 years, we need to take this
opportunity to sort out some of the rough edges. We have not talked
about indexation, or anything like that, today, but there are
going to be some savings, That gives us some margin to make some
minor adjustments to get it right for the next 20, 30 or 40 years.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed for
a fantastic session. I think that has been one of the most valuable
evidence sessions I have been to. We are most grateful.