The Armed Forces Bill - Armed Forces Committee Contents

1  Introduction

The Armed Forces Bill

1. An Armed Forces Bill is required every five years to provide the legal basis for the Armed Forces and the system of military law which exists in the UK. It also offers an opportunity to make amendments to existing primary legislation. Armed Forces Bills are, by convention, committed to an ad-hoc select committee of the House of Commons after Second Reading. The current Armed Forces Bill received Second Reading on 10 January 2011 and the Committee was appointed on 17 January 2011 with a tight deadline to Report the Bill back to the House by 10 March. As a select committee, we had the power to:

  • take oral and written evidence on the substance of the Bill;
  • undertake UK and overseas visits;
  • deliberate in public to consider formally and amend the Bill as we saw fit; and
  • publish a Special Report setting out any conclusions or recommendations.

2. When the Select Committee on the last Armed Forces Bill was established in 2006, the power to undertake formal consideration of the Bill in public was an innovation, introduced in part on the recommendation of its predecessor Committee in 2001.[1] Since our predecessor conducted its work in 2006 the House has established the practice of public bill committees, which similarly take evidence and deliberate in public, although they may not travel.

3. The convention of committing the Armed Forces Bill to a select committee rather than a general committee allows the Bill to receive thorough scrutiny. We welcomed the freedom to determine our programme of evidence taking and the opportunity to analyse the various aspects of the Bill in depth. We have greatly benefited from the power to undertake visits away from Westminster, giving us the opportunity to see facilities first hand and speak to personnel and their families directly. We also recognise the value of the greater degree of consensus and collaboration that a select committee format encourages. Therefore, while we recognise there may be scope to consider committal to a public bill committee in future, we recommend that select committee scrutiny continues to be the convention for the Armed Forces Bill, where the content of the Bill is significant enough to warrant it.

Our inquiry

4. Following the precedent set by past Armed Forces Bill Committees, we resolved to undertake a select committee-style evidence-based inquiry, followed by formal line-by-line consideration of the Bill. For this latter stage we adopted public bill committee procedure for the consideration of clauses and amendments. We launched our inquiry on Tuesday 25 January 2011, issuing a public call for written evidence. We also decided upon a number of witnesses for oral evidence sessions and resolved to undertake a number of visits within the UK, namely, to the Reserve Training and Mobilisation Centre in Chilwell, near Nottingham, the Defence Medical and Rehabilitation Centre Headley Court in Surrey, and the Military Court and Army Garrison in Colchester. These visits were helpful and informative and provided valuable opportunities to gauge the views of ordinary Service men and women on a range of issues, both matters directly significant to the Bill and in relation to broader welfare concerns.

5. We received 24 written submissions from a range of organisations and held four oral evidence sessions. We took evidence from Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials, the Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces, the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Personnel and Training) and the three Service Principal Personnel Officers. We also took evidence from the three Provost Marshals and the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police. Finally we heard from the Royal British Legion, Help for Heroes and the Confederation of British Service and Ex-Service Organisations, and the three Service Families Federations and the Forces Pension Society. The written and oral evidence to the Committee and transcripts of the deliberative sessions have been included alongside this Special Report. We are grateful to all those who contributed to our inquiry by providing evidence, either in writing or in person, and to those who contributed to our visits.

6. This Special Report does not provide a detailed summary of the contents of the Bill, the evidence we received or the discussions had during the formal consideration of the Bill.[2] This Report instead gives an outline of the issues we considered in greatest detail and makes a number of observations and recommendations on matters requiring the Government's attention. We hope that bringing the oral and written evidence we have taken and the discussions had during the formal consideration together into one document will assist the House in its further consideration of the Bill.

1   See the House of Commons Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Armed Forces Bill, Special Report of Session 2005-06, p 4 Back

2   For further information on the Bill itself, see the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, Bill 122-EN Back

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