The Armed Forces Bill - Armed Forces Committee Contents

Written evidence from AT EASE


[1]  Contracts for under 18s. Progress by mistake. Regress by intention

This year, 2011, some soldiers aged nineteen or twenty will be able to give 12 months notice to leave full time Army service. Others with similar length of service, of the same age and in the same regiment will have to wait up to two years longer to do the same. At the time of writing this has already caused confusion, is likely to cause great resentment and damage morale in all Army units with soldiers aged under 22.

[2]  Unequal opportunity in recruitment

The haste with which 16 year olds are recruited straight from school in Britain is contrasted with the requirement on applicants from Commonwealth countries to prove that they have the means to support themselves for up to 12 months in the UK, without permission to work, as their application to join the British Army may take that long to process.

[3]  The Service Complaints System

The Armed Forces Act 2006 created the post of Service Complaints Commissioner which started on 1 January 2008.

The Armed Forces Bill 2011 proposes adding independent members to a Service Complaint Panels. The experience of AT EASE does not indicate that these reforms will be sufficient to remedy a complaints system described by the Service Complaints Commissioner herself in 2010 as "not yet operating efficiently, effectively or fairly". We ask the Committee to consider the example of the Military Ombudsman system in other Western European countries.

[4]  Life Imprisonment

The Armed Forces Act 2006 ruled that absence without leave to avoid an active posting should be defined as desertion and be punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. This measure was not mentioned in the Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2006 and appears to have been overlooked by them. As this drastic measure was not discussed by the Select Committee of 2006 before it became law, the Select Committee of 2011 may wish to consider the implications now.

[5]  Conscientious Objection

The ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS has only sat once since before the start of the war in Afghanistan. The result of that hearing on 17 December 2010 raises serious questions about the correct definition of conscientious objection.

[6]  Observations on previous Parliamentary Reports

AT EASE has submitted evidence and observed the progress of every Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill since 1986. Attention is drawn to previous Parliamentary Reports especially the Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1991 and the [post-Deepcut] Duty of Care Report 2005 both of which are relevant to problems which remain unresolved today.

[7]  References

[8]  Statistics of reasons for contacting AT EASE


1.1  On 1 January 2008 an important reform was announced but reversed on 6 August 2008. As the reversal cannot be retrospective there are this year, 2011, different regulations for young soldiers who joined within these dates and those who joined just outside these dates.

1.2  The background has been of concern to previous Parliamentary Committees. The anomaly that army recruits aged less than 18 have to commit themselves to up to two years longer minimum service than those aged over 18 was identified by the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1991.

It is, in our view, reasonable to require those enlisting as adults to commit themselves to a minimum of three or four years' service. Whether the same should be expected of minors is more doubtful. Perversely, those signing up before the age of 18 actually sign up for longer: they must serve until their 18th birthday and then the minimum period of adult service. [1]

The next Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill in 1996 shared the concern of their predecessors on this point.

We found the justification for the difference in the length of service for under-18 year olds and adults unconvincing. [2]

We recommend that the working group considering the position of under-18 year olds should give careful consideration to the desirability of requiring minors to commit themselves to a period of service no longer than that of adults. [3]

1.3  However the longer commitment for those aged under 18 was not changed but in 1999 a year was added to the minimum service for all age groups. So the earliest age at which soldiers could give 12 months' notice became 21. That means they can leave full time service aged 22. For those who join at 16 what we in AT EASE formerly called "the five year trap" [4] became the six year trap.

1.4   In January 2008 it was announced that minimum service in the Army would be four years subject to 12 months prior notice.[5] This applied to all age groups. This long awaited reform was welcomed by AT EASE. It meant that recruits under 18 no longer had to serve up to two years longer than adults. The unfair condition criticised by the Select Committees in 1991 and 2001 had been finally rectified.

1.5  It should be noted that in the RAF, the minimum service, irrespective of age on joining, is still four years. It is much easier for RAF recruits to understand their terms of service and fairer to younger entrants.

1.6  However in August 2008 the Army reversed the ruling of January 2008 and restored the obligation on soldiers who had joined under-18 to serve four years from their 18th birthday plus service from joining until their 18th birthday.[6] A progressive, much needed reform had been treated as a clerical error and the unjust status quo ante restored.

1.7  Because the change back could not be retrospective, the recruits who had signed the attestation forms with the January 2008 regulations and taken the oath were and are not liable to the August 2008 conditions. The soldiers who signed on in 2007 or 2008 will have completed three or more years of service during the course of this year 2011. Those, of whatever age, who signed on between 1 January 2008 and 5 August 2008 are eligible to give 12 months notice and leave in 2012. Those who were under 18 when they signed on outside these dates are not.

1.8  Already AT EASE has had two enquiries from soldiers who both signed on in January 2008 when they were under 18. One had contradictory responses from different Officers. One Officer agreed he was entitled to leave in January 2012. Another told him he had to wait until four years from his 18th birthday like everyone else. Fortunately he had kept his original attestation paper. The Officers have now taken further advice and agreed that he can leave in January 2012. Since then another soldier in a different Regiment, who also joined in January 2008 when he was under 18 has, after several interviews, been given the wrong information and told he has to serve four years from the age of 18. What is very worrying is that, in his case, the wrong information is alleged to have come from the Army personnel department in Glasgow which means the wrong information may be going out to other units.

1.9  In units with the correct information, those who joined when they were under-18 before January 2008 will be told they have to wait longer before they can be released although they have served longer than those entitled to leave between January and August 2012. Not only is this inevitably going to cause resentment and confusion in the ranks, it places the NCOs and Officers, who have to administer the manning sections and explain the disparity, in a very difficult position.

1.10  What is most regrettable about this whole sorry confused situation is that the mistake was an improvement and a step towards rectifying injustice. The correction was the opposite.

1.11  One positive development was that in August 2008 a new attestation document for new recruits [7] was issued. Having complained to previous Select Committees, about the lack of clarity AT EASE is pleased to acknowledge that the new document is an improvement. It does warn recruits about the minimum length of service and extra time beyond that minimum which may be added on if they do an education course. However there is still the problem that impulsive, excited 16 year olds may not read the whole or "take in" the implications. Parents can also be confused. AT EASE still gets contacted by parents who think soldiers can "buy themselves out" although this form of discharge was ended in 1991 and is only available to soldiers who joined before that date.

1.12  More recently there has been a similar development in that another much needed reform has been announced by mistake.

1.13  On 10 January 2011 the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, mistakenly stated in the House of Commons in answer to an MP that, after serving 28 days, any soldier could give fourteen days notice and leave up until the age of 18.[8] Later an answer to another MP he gave a more correct answer[9] that is that the right for minors to give 14 days notice and leave expires six months after joining. Many are still only 16 when their right to give notice expires.

1.14  This incident demonstrates that the present terms of contracts for the youngest recruits are very confusing. If even a Government Minister could misunderstand them it is not surprising that so many 16 year olds do not understand and miss the six month deadline. The other reason that the Minister may have thought that the right to give fourteen days notice and leave continued until the 18th birthday may be that such a regulation appears reasonable. It is what one would expect in a modern society where 18 is the legal age of majority.

1.15  These are two examples where the mistaken information represents what would be a much fairer system than the present reality. It is sometimes argued that extending the period of discharge as of right for young recruits is not necessary because Commanding Officers have discretionary powers to discharge unhappy minors who have "made their unhappiness known" to their Commanding Officer.[10]

1.16  The Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2001 acknowledged the concern of their predecessors about the terms of service [ but accepted assurances from the Director General of Service Personnel Policy that change was not necessary because Commanding Officers have discretionary powers to discharge unhappy minors and he did not know of any case of a Commanding Officer being difficult if an unhappy youngster wanted to leave [11] The exact numbers of those who have left under the unhappy minors provision is known because all discharges and the reason for discharge have to be recorded. Refusals of requests do not have to be recorded so their numbers are not known.

1.17  Young soldiers face a problem in how they "make their unhappiness known" to their Commanding Officers. A teenage private soldier can't just walk up to his Commanding Officer and say he wants to leave the Army. Some demonstrate their unhappiness in various ways of self harm including suicidal gestures, deliberately injuring themselves, taking illegal drugs or going AWOL.

The Parliamentary Defence Committee Report Duty of Care 2005 stated:

We are concerned that the period of time available for recruits to exercise their right to leave training unnecessarily restrictive and may lead to recruits going AWOL. We heard evidence of recruits

who wanted to leave the Army outside of this time restriction who, having been refused permission to leave, went AWOL. [12]

1.18  This echoes the finding of the MPs in the 1991 Select Committee who were told by soldiers serving sentences at MCTC Colchester that they would not have gone AWOL if they could have left legally. In the long experience of AT EASE most soldiers who go AWOL would not have done so if they could have got a discharge legally.

1.19  The Duty of Care 2005 investigation was undertaken as a result of the deaths of four young soldiers at Deepcut. Unfortunately it did not have as much influence on the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2006 as we, in AT EASE, had hoped. The Deepcut Review under Nicholas Blake QC was published in 2006 [13] towards the end of the Select Committees deliberations.

We think it inappropriate to make recommendations on the issues on which Mr Blake commented prior to the Government response to the Deepcut Review. [14]

1.20  As the last Select Committee felt unable to make recommendations on the issues arising from the Deepcut tragedy, we appeal to the current Select Committee to consider them now. They are very relevant to the present situation. What happened at Deepcut demonstrated vividly that the discretionary power of a Commanding Officer to discharge unhappy young soldiers is not an adequate safety net. Some unhappy young soldiers who were outside the six month window were refused permission to leave. The four who died were not the only soldiers being abused and humiliated. If the Commanding Officer had any knowledge of what was going on he surely would have intervened to try to stop it.

1.21  We appeal to this Select Committee to propose the following amendments.

  1. (1)  That minimum service be counted from the date of joining the Army, whatever the age at enlistment.
  2. (2)  That all members of the Armed Forces under the age of 18 have a right to give fourteen days notice and leave.


2.1  The Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2001 endorsed a policy that is still actively followed today.

We believe it continues to be important to recruit young people straight from school, including at the age of 16; if they are not caught (sic) at this point, they are likely to take up other careers and be permanently lost to the Armed Forces. [15]

2.2  This policy requires that the recruitment procedure has to minimise any delay between leaving school and joining up. At present although recruits may not join the army until they are 16 years old, they can start the application process from the age of 15 and seven months [16]. Over hasty-decisions made when young are major reasons given to AT EASE for wanting to leave the Armed Forces, especially the Army.

2.3  By contrast AT EASE has recently received enquiries from people from African countries who wish to join the British Army. The recruitment procedure for them is very long.[17] They have to travel to the UK at their own expense before being considered. In order to be considered they must have a sponsor who is resident in the UK. They do not have to live with the sponsor but the sponsor must be responsible for contacting them while they are in the UK. The applicant recruit and the sponsor are warned that the recruitment assessment may take up to 12 months. During that time they are not allowed to take paid employment or to have recourse to public funds. On entry they have to prove they have funds to support themselves for up to 12 months.

2.4  It is accepted that time spent on the recruitment process may need to differ for recruits with different backgrounds but both these extremes are, we submit, indefensible.

Please consider the following making the following recommendations:

  1. (1)  That the age at which applications to join the Army can be first submitted be raised to 16 years old.
  2. (2)  That the earliest date of joining the Army be at least one month after leaving full time education.
  3. (3)  That applicants from Commonwealth countries undergo preliminary assessment in their own country and are only invited to the UK if preliminary assessment indicates they are likely to be accepted.
  4. (4)  That, when in the UK, the final stages of assessment and recruitment of Commonwealth applicants be carried out as speedily as possible.


3.1  The post of Service Complaints Commissioner was created by the Armed Forces Act 2006 and started on 1 January 2008.

In her latest report available at the time of writing, the Commissioner said:

Despite improvements I cannot give an assurance that the Service complaints system is yet working efficiently, effectively or fairly.[18]

3.2  The experience of AT EASE over many years is that the procedures in the UK have indeed been inefficient, ineffective and unfair. As one Senior NCO put it "The Complaints Procedure has been an absolute nightmare for me and my family".

3.3  The Military Ombudsman system used in several other Western European countries is an example of a system that is more efficient, effective and undeniably much more fair.

3.4  For instance in Germany [19] the Military Ombudsman is a civil servant who is completely independent of the Military. In every barracks the contact details are displayed. It is a punishable offence for any Officer to suggest that a complainant should withdraw. The Ombudsman has authority to investigate complaints and to question all involved irrespective of rank. The Ombudsman is able to come to a decision from a neutral position. If, for instance, an Officer is cleared of an untrue allegation, it is known that was the result of an independent investigation.

3.5  By contrast, amongst UK Forces, there is a widespread belief that in any dispute or conflict of evidence the more senior officers will always accept the version of the most senior in rank involved. Some believe it is their duty to do so. They think it would undermine authority and discipline to do otherwise.

3.6  A basic flaw in the Redress of Grievance system in the UK [19] is that the military are the judges in their own case. Two or more service men or women are not allowed to complain so it is always a solitary individual up against the system. A complaint moves slowly up the Chain of Command. At each level the complainant gets a written reply. If not satisfied he/she has to write back stating reasons why the complaint should go to the next level. In the experience of AT EASE most complainants just give up at some point. They are then asked to sign that they withdraw their complaint or are satisfied with the result. Both original complainants and NCOs, at the lower levels of the Chain of Command, who back complainants are sometimes intimidated into withdrawing.

3.7  The creation of the post of a Service Complaints Commissioner in the 2006 Armed Forces Act was welcomed by AT EASE as a step in the right direction but we were dismayed that the new Commissioner would have only two powers:

  1. (1)  to refer back to the Chain of Command; and
  2. (2)  to be informed of the decision of the Chain of Command. [20] This must be the most frustrating job in public service.

3.8  In November 2007 AT EASE was informed that the Commissioner Dr Susan Atkins would start her post on January 1st 2008. The letter from the MoD stated an aim of a transparent, fair complaints system. It also stated Dr Atkins's credentials which are very impressive. This gave us hope that, despite the limited description of her role in the 2006 Armed Forces Act, it was intended that she would have some real authority or influence. We did not think such a highly qualified person would be employed just to pass on messages.

3.9  A complaint on behalf of an AT EASE service user was submitted to the new Commissioner as soon as she started. We received a reply asking for further details which we sent. Then it was referred to the Chain of Command. After that it became apparent that nothing had changed. It was the same unfair procedure as in the past. Even the forms, the terms used etc were unchanged. The complainant had to continue with the unreformed Redress of Grievance procedure. Such references as there were to the Commissioner did not indicate that she was being respected as an independent arbiter. At one point the complainant got a letter saying "You complained to the Service Complaints Commissioner but the Army were already dealing with it". As usual with the Redress procedure it was more like an adversarial contest with the Chain of Command on one side and the lone complainant on the other. When he complained at the delay he was told that "some suggestions of the Service Complaints Commissioner had been referred to the Army's legal advisers". He was never told what the suggestions were or what that legal advice was. In an adversarial dispute like a civil action each side can keep their legal advice private. However those entrusted to bring in a verdict such as Justices in a Magistrates Court would not give legal advice to just one side. The whole procedure took 21 months.

3.10  This experience leads AT EASE to agree with the Commissioner's statement that the system is not efficient, effective or fair. [21] We do not think that is in any the fault of the Commissioner or her staff.

3.11  Section 20 of the Armed Forces Bill 2011 which is before you, proposes measures whereby independent persons may be appointed to Service Complaint Panels. The three separate systems of the branches of the Armed Forces will be merged.

3.12  The Panels would deal with the final stages of an appeal. Many Service complainants give up in despair before they reach that stage as has been noted by a SSAFA statement.

We believe that independent participation ideally needs to be at all levels of the process, not just at the Service Board Level, which is too inaccessible and in practice relatively rarely attained. [22]

3.13  The merger of three unfair systems will not make one fair one. What is proposed is to top and tail the complaints system with token independent persons. The Service Complaints Commissioner will receive complaints at the beginning of the system and there will be some independent members of the final panel for the minority of complainants who persevere to the final stages.

3.14  Would-be complainants in the British Armed Forces are not just malcontents with petty grudges. Lives might have been saved in Deepcut, Iraq and Afghanistan if British troops had the services available to other Western European troops.

3.15  We suggest an enquiry be set up to investigate whether there is a need for an independent Military Ombudsman in the UK, seeking advice from countries which have such systems.


4.1  Section 8 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 defined absence without leave with intent to avoid a particular relevant active service posting as desertion. Relevant service was defined in terms that may be applied to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. It ruled that desertion in such circumstances could be punished with imprisonment which "may be for life"[23] This has been the law since November 2009.

4.2  The Report of your predecessors in 2006 refers to a "clause by clause consideration of the Bill". That was not what happened in reality. This present Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2011 is asked to re-consider this measure because it appears to have been overlooked by your predecessors in 2006. Reading the Armed Forces Bill 2006, it is easy to miss those four words "may be for life". It is not mentioned in any of the 62 paragraphs of the Special Report of that Select Committee [24]

4.3  Some MPs not on the Select Committee did propose an amendment opposing life imprisonment and there was a debate in the House of Commons which a small number of MPs attended. After the division bell sounded, about 350 MPs who had not attended the debate, arrived, voted and immediately left the Chamber. They did not even wait to hear the result and could be heard talking and laughing outside. The impression of observers was that those MPs might not know and certainly did not care that they had voted for life imprisonment for members of another occupation who were absent from their place of work.

4.4  It is undeniable that absence without leave is a huge problem and that numbers have grown during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You may wish to ask the MoD witnesses for the current figures. What may be significant is that, during previous wars, such as that in the Falklands and the Balkans, the rate of absence without leave dropped. When there were media reports about troops acting as peacekeepers in the Balkans AT EASE was contacted by AWOL soldiers for help giving themselves up.

4.5  That numbers of troops wish to avoid deployment or return to Afghanistan is certainly a serious problem that needs to be addressed. What is questionable is whether the threat of the maximum punishment in our penal system will be the solution to that problem.

4.6  In the experience of AT EASE, unwillingness to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan is sometimes due to some form of traumatic stress disorder or some form of conscientious objection. A historical parallel indicates that the threat of maximum punishment will not be a solution to either of these problems. During the First World War 306 British soldiers were executed for desertion or cowardice. The threat of the maximum penalty did not deter conscientious objectors who were prepared to die rather than kill. Nor did it enable traumatised soldiers to return to battle even though their lives literally depended on doing so.

4.7  On 15 August 2006 the, then, Defence Secretary announced a posthumous free pardon for those executed in the First World War.[25] It is strange that in the same year the same Government that recognised that these men should not have suffered the maximum penalty, passed a law condemning their present day equivalents to the present day maximum penalty.

Please consider recommending:

That Sections 8 (4a) and 8(5) of the Armed Forces Act 2006, that permit a sentence of life imprisonment, be repealed.


5.1  The experience is described of a serving member of the Royal Navy with a genuine conscientious objection to a posting to Afghanistan. He did not go absent without leave, commit any offence or refuse any order. He scrupulously followed the correct procedure in applying for a discharge as a conscientious objector. He appeared before the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors on 17 December 2010.

5.2  This appeal hearing was very important because it is the first and only such hearing to be held since several years before the start of the current war in Afghanistan and recent war in Iraq. Members of AT EASE had observed four ACCO appeal hearings in the past and regarded them as fair procedures. We regretted that ACCO had been inactive when it was most needed so this hearing was very welcome.

5.3  The appellant, a Leading Medical Assistant in the Royal Navy described the two main reasons why he had become a conscientious objector during 2010.

Medical ethics

5.4  During his early training he was taught that Royal Navy Medics must at all times observe the letter and spirit of the Geneva Convention. He quoted the instructor. "Even if your patient is an enemy soldier who has just killed your best friend, you are medics. It is your duty to tend to his injuries". He accepted these standards and served over five years in the medical service of the Navy believing that he would be required to uphold them in all circumstances.

5.5  In July 2010 he attended a briefing to prepare him and other medics for posting to Afghanistan. He was shocked that the instructions contradicted the ethical standards he had previously been taught. He was told that injured UK and allied troops should be given priority over civilian casualties who might have to be sent away. He asked if this would apply to a seriously injured Afghan child and was told it would.

5.6  Another Leading Medical Assistant with 12 years service testified that this was what they were told at the briefing and that it had greatly upset the appellant.

Killing of civilians

5.7  After this briefing he tried to find out more about what he would be involved in while serving in Afghanistan. He asked colleagues who had served in Afghanistan and learned he might be involved in firing a gun as well as medical duties. He searched the internet for information about the war and was horrified by reports of the scale and nature of killing civilians. Finally the WikiLeaks films of deliberate killing of civilians by allied troops and the knowledge that he might be ordered to refuse treatment to civilians injured by his own side convinced him that he could not take part. He said he felt that members of the Forces who felt as he did had to "stand up and be counted". He would have been willing to continue to serve in the Royal Navy if he could do so and still object to the war in Afghanistan. This is not possible. Serving members of the UK Armed Forces have to be available for all deployments that may be required. For that reason conscientious objections to specific conflicts are allowed but the objectors have to apply to leave the Armed Forces on those grounds.

The decision of the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors

5.8  This application was turned down on the grounds that his objection was political rather than based on morals or conscience. The Committee also reminded itself (and indeed wishes to stress) that political objection to military service is not a ground for discharge and that only objections based on moral or conscientious grounds may be taken into account by the Committee upon a serviceman's application for discharge from military service. [26]

5.9  The "reminded" in this context is puzzling because this appears to be a new ruling by new ACCO members. In 1916 the UK Parliament decided that conscientious objection could be recognised on any grounds that were genuinely against the conscience of an individual. It was not just restricted to religious grounds. There has not been an Act of Parliament since then to overturn this.

5.10  Certainly cases of conscientious objection on more recognisably political grounds than this were allowed during the twentieth century. None of the Committee members at previous hearings observed by AT EASE indicated that any particular form of objection was disqualified so long as it was sincerely held by that individual.

5.11  Because of its strict adherence to confidentiality, AT EASE would not normally comment on an individual case but this matter is already in the public domain as an ACCO hearing is in public and has been reported in the press. Before this hearing, AT EASE had for many years, on the basis of our previous observations of ACCO hearings, advised conscientious objectors (including this appellant) that they would get a fair hearing and a reasonable result. Since 17 December 2010 we can no longer have that confidence.

5.12  This case has serious implications for other members of the Armed Forces that this Select Committee is asked to consider and clarify.

  1. [i]  Two Leading Medical Assistants in the Royal Navy have testified that they were given contradictory instructions in basic training and in pre Afghanistan briefings. This Select Committee is asked to consider which is correct. Is it the duty of medical staff in the UK Armed Forces to treat casualties according to medical criteria irrespective of race or occupation? Is it the duty of medical staff in the UK Armed Forces to always treat members of their own or allied Forces before civilian casualties irrespective of severity of injury or need for immediate treatment? These rules cannot both be correct. It is unfair to send any troops into a conflict zone with confused or contradictory instructions.
  2. [ii]  Should an objection based on medical ethics be defined as a political objection or can it be a matter of morals or conscience?
  3. [iii]  Can an objection to taking part in unjustified killing of civilians be a matter of morals or conscience?
  4. [iv]  Can a political conviction be a matter of morals or conscience?


6.1  The fact that AT EASE has made submissions to every Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill since 1986 may be described as "the triumph of hope over experience". The Select Committee of 1991 was very conscientious. Members of different political parties were united in trying to address the problems arising from the contracts of young soldiers. [27] It helped that some Members had young soldiers unable to leave the Army amongst their constituents. The Committee visited MCTC Colchester and interviewed inmates serving sentences for AWOL who told them they would not have gone AWOL if there had been a legal way of leaving the Forces.[28] This concurs with AT EASE experience. It can confidently be predicted that, if Members of the 2011 Select Committee did the same, they would get the same answers. Despite stating several concerns [29] the only reform regarding under-18s achieved by the 1991 Select Committee was that the minimum age of recruitment was raised to 16 years old. Unfortunately instead of making their recommendations as amendments to the Act, they instructed the MoD to bring forward proposals within a year to change the conditions for soldiers under 18.

6.2  AT EASE gave evidence to the 1996 Select Committee that seventeen year old soldiers were being sent on active service to the Balkans conflict in defiance of the strong condemnation of that practice in the 1991 Report. There had also been no reform of the contracts binding them into adulthood signed by under- age recruits. We thought the Select Committee in 1996 would be outraged that the recommendations of their predecessors had been ignored. Only one member of the 1996 Committee pursued the question of what changes had occurred in response to the 1991 recommendations. He got an admission from a Military witness that "nothing has happened". [30]

6.3  The 1991 Select Committee devoted considerable time and attention to the issue of the contracts of young soldiers. Subsequent Select Committees on the Armed Forces Bills were asked to devote time and attention to matters less directly affecting members of the Armed Forces. In 1996 it was the sale of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. In 2001 it was the change in regulations of the Ministry of Defence Police.

6.4  In 2006 AT EASE hoped that the parliamentary Defence Committee Report Duty of Care 2005 [31 ]which considered some of the implications of the deaths of young soldiers at Deepcut would influence the 2006 Select Committee on the Armed Forces. The findings of the Duty of Care Report echo those of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1991 indicating that little has changed since then.

6.5  In 2010 it was announced in Parliament that this 2011 Armed Forces Bill would be modest because so much had been achieved in 2006. It appears to be being rushed through so that Members of this Select Committee will not have time to consider the need for any reforms. Potential witnesses like AT EASE were told in advance that there would not be time for any oral evidence as the Select Committee must report by early March. It might be justified to devote less time to the Armed Forces Bill 2011 if there was evidence that there is now less need for considering the situation of the Armed Forces. The indications are that there is more not less need at the present time. Troops are dying and suffering horrific injuries in a controversial war. The rate of absence without leave is soaring. The Service Complaints Commissioner appointed by the last Armed Forces Bill reports the complaints system is not effective, efficient or fair. Respected charities are complaining about the treatment of serving troops and veterans.

6.6  Previous Select Committees made the mistake of thinking that issues would be dealt with elsewhere. The 1991 Select Committee asked the MoD to bring forward plans for changing the conditions of under-18s within a year. It did not happen. The 1996 Select Committee was told that a working group following the Betts Review would consider the same topic. The Betts Review did not deal with that subject and in 1999 a year was added to minimum service. The 2006 Select Committee thought that the implications of Deepcut would be studied by other Parliamentary bodies. We ask this Select Committee not to assume that issues that have been deferred and deferred can be left to a future "Armed Forces Covenant" report.[32]

Please will this Select Committee re-negotiate with your parliamentary colleagues so that you have time to give serious outstanding issues the time and attention that is needed.

17 February 2011


Under 18s Progress by mistake. Regress by intention

[1]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1991 page x 25

[2]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1996 page xv 41

[3]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1996 page xvi 42

[4]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1991 page x 25



[7]  Army Form B271W Notice Paper-Regular Army-Full Time

[8]  Hansard HC deb 10 January 2011 c3w Reply to Caroline Lucas MP

[9]  Hansard Colum 27w 7 February 2011 Reply to Fabian Hamilton MP

[10]  ibid

[11]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2001 page xxv 61

[12]  Defence Committee 2005 Duty of Care Report page 53. 103

[13]  Nicholas Blake QC 2006 The Deepcut Review published TSO

[14]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2006 Page 54. 50

Unequal Opportunity in Recruitment

[15]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2001 page xxvi 63


[17]  Letter sent to Commonwealth applicants by Army Personnel department

The Service Complaints System

[18]  Dr Susan Atkins 20 March 2010 2nd Annual Report of the Service Complaints Commissioner

[19]  Andreas Prufert 2006. This is based on a talk given to an AT EASE meeting by the, then, Secretary General of EUROMIL

[20]  Armed Forces Bill 2006.

[21]  Dr Susan Atkins 2010 op cit

[22]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2006 Ev.157

Life Imprisonment

[23]  Armed Forces Act 2006 Section 8. Desertion 4(a)

[24]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2006 pages 50-56

[25]  Des Brown, Defence Secretary 15 August 2006. Cited in The Economist 17 August 2006

Conscientious Objection

[26]  T King, C M Lake and K Walton December 2010 Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors, Advice to Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Defence.

Unfinished business-Previous Parliamentary Reports

[27]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1991

[28]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1991 page x 24

[29]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1991 pages x-xi 24-28

[30]  Report of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1996 Keith Mains MP

[31]  Defence Committee 2005 op cit

[32]  Armed Forces Bill 2011 Armed Forces Covenant Report 5 (1)


By 1st "reason" code TotalIn forces In (foreign forces)Ex forces ?JoiningCivilian UnknownUnknown (foreign forces)
Total (all reasons)206 122436 27212 3
Wants discharge48 47100 000
Info only326 0123 110
AWOL3030 000 000
Ethical/political25 1721 1103
Medical/Psych.24 61151 100
Involuntary discharge14 418 0010
Disciplinary8 1050 020
Family problem8 5020 010
Bullying42 010 010
Gay11 000 000
Other113 032 030
By any "reason" code (up to four "reason" codes allowed per case)
Wants discharge73 70101 010
Medical/Psych.57 302221 110
Info only4213 0423 110
AWOL3333 000 000
Ethical/political32 2223 1103
Disciplinary24 12170 022
Family problem17 12031 010
Involuntary discharge16 519 0010
Bullying1411 110 010
Gay21 010 000
Other3117 182 030
Counts are of cases for six years to 9 Dec 2010 (by date of 1st contact)—earliest case 12 Dec 2004
Cases known to relate primarily to service in foreign forces are counted separately

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