Written evidence from the British Armed
Forces Federation |
1. This evidence is submitted by the British
Armed Forces Federation ("BAFF"), an independent non-statutory
organisation representing its members, who are predominantly serving
personnel in the three Armed Services; membership is also available
to veterans. Our Steering Group submitted written evidence to
the previous Armed Forces Bill Committee in
2. The Ministry of Defence continues to
have an ambivalent attitude towards the Federation. It accepts
that serving personnel of any service or rank have every right
to join such an organisation if they wish. We had positive meetings
in 2008-09 with a Defence Minister and with the relevant senior
officials. Along with the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defence,
Electoral Commission and the three Service Family Federations,
we were fully represented on the Service Voting Working Group
which was active for several months before the 2010 General Election.
3. We are permitted to place paid advertising
in Service publications. However, in early 2010 the Ministry intervened
to prevent BAFF from making printed publicity material available
within Service establishments, and from offering presentations
for those who wished them, after the Commanding Officers concerned
had readily agreed to accept such material and visits. The Ministry
contends that no such facilities are afforded to any other organisations,
which is demonstrably not the case.
4. We therefore acknowledge that irrespective
of the political colour of Government, we still have some way
to go on recognition. Our concern is to ensure that nothing is
inserted in the current Bill which might inadvertently make it
more difficult at a later stage to make sensible progress on these
5. In the course of the 2006 Bill Committee's
evidence sessions, two witnesses who did not favour a British
forces federation supplied anecdotes about their experiences with
other nations' forces in the past. While we do not expect the
same to happen during the present inquiry, we would appreciate
the opportunity to check and respond to any such anecdotes which
6. As BAFF has been highlighting the Covenant
since the early days of our Steering Group in 2006, we welcome
its increased profile. Much is being made of consultation with
"stakeholders". The one stakeholder who is not consultedexcept
in roundabout ways and on the Ministry's termsis the Service
7. The Ministry rightly makes a virtue of
its work with special interest organisations representing gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgender personnel, Muslim personnel,
and others but personnel in general are not yet allowed to be
represented in a similar way.
8. We do not suggest, of course, that the
hard working Service charities and family federations should not
endeavour to reflect the Service person's point of view and to
comment robustly, as they do, on matters affecting Service personnel.
Similarly, with married personnel amongst our membership we naturally
do comment on Service family issues from time to time. The very
fact that other organisations do quite rightly comment on personnel
issues proves, in our view, that there is a need for the Ministry's
consultative activities to includebut not to the exclusion
of othersa representative body which is appointed by and
answerable to its own membership in the armed forces.
9. We agree with the Service Complaints
Commissioner that the existing Service Complaints system is based
on sound principles but is over-engineered and complex. Our main
concern, as an independent all-ranks body representing members
who may be involved on either side of a complaint, concerns the
length of time being taken to process complaints. Justice delayed
is justice denied. Grievances can acquire a life of their own
if not resolved within a reasonable time; they can have a corrosive
effect on working relationships, cohesion within the team, and
mutual trust up and down the chain of command.
10. We support an increase in the SCC's powers
to intervene and to review, and the development of her functions
towards those of a true Armed Forces Ombudsman. Because this is
a national matter and we do not wish the SCC to be overshadowed,
we have already expressed serious reservations about a proposal
elsewhere for the establishment of a European Military Ombudsman.
11. On complaints made after leaving the Service,
we agree that the SCC should be the final arbiter of whether it
was just and reasonable to refuse to accept a complaint submitted
out of time.
12. While there is already nothing to prevent
BAFF from providing appropriate support to its members who may
be involved on either side of a complaint, a fully-recognised
armed forces federation would contribute to the fair and efficient
working of the complaints system.
13. We note the evidence submitted by Mr David
Gee and others about the recruitment of under 18 years olds into
the armed forces. We would not wish suitable 16 and 17 year-olds
to be deprived of the educational and training opportunities afforded
by the two Army Colleges. We would not, therefore, support the
raising of the minimum recruitment age to 18.
14. We agree with other witnesses, however, that
there is an issue about 16 and 17 year olds entering into binding
commitments, enforceable by criminal sanctions under Service law,
to continue serving for at least four years in adult service.
15. The present "unhappy minors" provision
rightly allows a Service person under the age of 18 years to leave
after completing 28 days of Service and having given the required
14 days' notice. Between their 18th birthday and attaining
the age of 18 years three months, they can request permission
to leave provided they have already registered, before their 18th
birthday, their "clear unhappiness" at their choice
of career. This procedure does not adequately provide informed
consent as an adult. We were also surprised to learn that permission
has been withheld from any individuals applying to leave at that
16. It would be better to have a positive requirement
for a Service person who enlisted at 16 or 17 to reaffirm their
commitment at or shortly after their 18th birthday, but still
be able to request permission to leave before they attain the
age of 18 years three months.
17. An adjustment along the above lines would
in our view deal with valid human rights and child protection
objections to the present system. It would also be much fairer
to parents for the Service person to be required to make a positive
informed decision as an adult, rather than leave parents with
the continuing moral burden of having committed their under-age
child to four years adult Service.
18. Armed forces personnel generally take a realistic
and unsentimental view of human rights issues. They respect human
rights and may (unlike most citizens) risk their lives to defend
those rights. They tend however to lack sympathy for those who
"wave the human rights card", or any other "card"
for that matter.
19. It was, on the other hand, argued in a recent
House of Commons debate (HC Deb, 10 February 2011, c55) that it
was to the ECHR that the armed forces owe the demise of the former
"March in the guilty man" principle of military justice.
The same could be said of the development of the redress system,
the establishment of the Service Complaints Commissioner, and
the abolition of the ban on homosexuals serving in the military.
With the benefit of hindsight, the existence of the Convention
has proved on the whole to have been helpful in such matters.
20. Human rights issues affecting armed forces
personnel are the subject of Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)4 to members
states adopted on 24 February 2010 by the Committee of Ministers
of the Council of Europe. The United Kingdom (MoD) was represented
on the Council of Europe Working Group which revised the draft
recommendations, as was BAFF as part of the "EUROMIL"
observer delegation. One of the approved recommendations is that
"Members of the armed forces should have the right to join
independent organisations representing their interests and have
the right to organise and to bargain collectively; where these
rights are not granted, the continued justification for such restrictions
should be reviewed..."
21. We are grateful for the opportunity to submit
written evidence, and would be pleased to give oral evidence if
that would be helpful.
16 February 2011