The Armed Forces Bill - Armed Forces Committee Contents

3  Other provisions

Independence and powers of Service police

13. We took detailed evidence on the proposed new powers for Service police from the three Service Provost Marshals, and the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police. In addition we received written evidence from the Defence Police Federation.[12] We also visited the Military Court in Colchester on 14 February and had the opportunity to meet the Judge Advocate sitting that day, with whom we were able to discuss the provisions of the Bill on an informal basis. This supplemented the written evidence received from the Judge Advocate General.[13] On the basis of these various sources of evidence, we support the provisions in the Bill in relation to the independence and powers of Service police.

Drug and alcohol testing

14. The vast majority of our witnesses supported the provisions of the Bill relating to a bespoke drug and alcohol testing scheme for the Armed Forces.[14] We sought clarification from the MoD on a number of matters, most notably in relation to concerns raised by the British Medical Association regarding the taking of blood samples by doctors providing care for patients[15] and to differences between the requirements for blood and urine samples under this legislation and existing civilian Road Traffic legislation.[16] We were satisfied with the responses to all queries and therefore we support the provisions in the Bill relating to drug and alcohol testing.

Service complaints procedures

15. Our predecessor committee looked in detail at Service complaint procedures during the passage of the Armed Forces Bill 2006. It is a subject that also attracted the attention of the House of Commons Defence Committee[17] and significant other scrutiny in light of Sir Nicholas Blake's inquiry into Deepcut.[18] The changes that were made in the 2006 Act, including the introduction of the Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces, have now been implemented. This Bill makes a number of minor changes to the makeup of Service Complaint Panels and the role of the Defence Council in handling complaints. We thought it appropriate therefore, to take evidence from the Service Complaints Commissioner, Dr Susan Atkins, both on the Bill and more widely on the success of the 2006 Act and the scope for further improvements to be made to Service complaints procedures. On the basis of her evidence and comments from MoD officials, we support the provisions in the Bill which aim to provide greater independence of Service Complaints Panels, where circumstances demand.

16. However, it was clear from Dr Atkins' evidence and comments from other witnesses, notably from the Families Federations and written evidence from the British Armed Forces Federation,[19] that despite the real progress that has been made, there are areas in which significant improvements could be made, particularly in relation to the powers of the Commissioner and the complexity of the system as a whole. Dr Atkins also had concerns about the handling of complaints made by veterans. She noted that she would be commenting on all these matters in greater detail in her forthcoming Annual Report.[20]

17. We welcome the work of the Service Complaints Commissioner thus far, and note her view that improvements could still be made to the complaints procedures. We recommend that the MoD review these procedures and the powers of the Commissioner in light of her evidence and her forthcoming Annual Report to ensure that the system is as effective as it can possibly be.

12   Ev 82 Back

13   Ev 93, paras 5-7 Back

14   Qq 43-48, Q 130, and Ev 84 Back

15   See BMA briefing paper, available at: See also Q 47 and Q 130 Back

16   Qq 43-44, 48 and Ev 109 Back

17   House of Commons Defence Committee, Third Report of Session 2004-05, Duty of Care, HC 63-I, para 423 and House of Commons Defence Committee, Fourteenth Report of Session 2005-06, Armed Forces Bill: proposal for a Service Complaints Commissioner, HC 1711 Back

18   The Deepcut Review, Nicholas Blake QC, 29 March 2006, HC 795 Back

19   Qq 362-364, Qq 396-402 and Ev 121, paras 2-12 Back

20   Ev 90, para 2.2 Back

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