The Armed Forces Bill Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.The convention of committing the Armed Forces Bill to a select committee in addition to its Committee Stage grants the Bill additional scrutiny. We have welcomed the freedom to determine our programme of evidence taking, and the flexibility to adapt it as we progressed in our scrutiny. This means we have been able to explore and analyse the various aspects of the Bill in depth. We also recognise the value of the greater degree of consensus and collaboration that a select committee format encourages. We recommend that select committee scrutiny continues to be the convention for the Armed Forces Bill. (Paragraph 5)

2.We look forward to the House having an opportunity to scrutinise the long-promised legislation addressing the investigation and prosecution of former Armed Forces Personnel who served in Northern Ireland. (Paragraph 6)

3.Once the membership for this Committee was approved by the House, just over eight weeks remained before the Committee had to report the Bill. This limited timeframe resulted in challenges securing witnesses, arranging visits and scrutinising the Bill in the detail which we would have liked. Future select committees on Armed Forces Bills should be given more time to complete their work. We recommend that there be at least three calendar months between committal to a select committee and the deadline for it to report. (Paragraph 12)

4.We have faced difficulty securing documents and necessary visit approval from the Ministry of Defence. We request an explanation for the delay in responding to reasonable requests for documents and for the refusal of the virtual visit at the last minute. This Committee is an important part of the scrutiny of the Armed Forces Bill and has the power to undertake visits. It is essential that, in future, the Government provide requested documents in a timely manner and authorise reasonable visit requests in order for this Committee to properly carry out its scrutiny. (Paragraph 13)

5.The Government should respond to the recommendations made by the Committee in this special report by written ministerial statement, within two calendar months. The Government should ensure that it engages with Members across the House at later stages of consideration of this Bill, taking on board our specific conclusions and recommendations. (Paragraph 15)

The Armed Forces Covenant

6.We welcome this Bill further incorporating the Armed Forces Covenant into law. It is clear that this change is important for, and is welcomed by, service personnel, veterans and their families. (Paragraph 41)

7.We recognise that there are concerns around how the duty to have due regard will work in practice, due in part to the delay in the publication of the draft Statutory Guidance and the decision not to have prescribed outcomes, and around some areas of the Covenant being brought into law whilst others are not. There are also concerns that the Bill applies to local government and some public bodies but not to central nor devolved governments. We further recognise continued concern with regards to the lack of alternative routes of redress for veterans. (Paragraph 42)

8.While we note the Government’s intention not to facilitate prescribed outcomes and that it is still considering appropriate mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of the Bill’s provisions, it is important to gauge the impact of the Bill’s measures on the delivery of the Armed Forces Covenant. Therefore, as a first step, we recommend that questions be included in future editions of the annual Continuous Attitude Surveys for the Regular Armed Forces, Service Families and the Reserves on whether the Covenant has had a positive or negative impact on respondents in the areas of housing, healthcare and education in the last 12 months. (Paragraph 43)

9.We recommend that, if enacted, the Government should review after 24 months of operation how the duty to have ‘due regard’ works in practice and whether it is negatively impacting other areas of the Covenant. The Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report should review the effectiveness of the legislation and comment on future scope. (Paragraph 44)

10.The House of Commons Defence Select Committee should conduct post-legislative scrutiny into how the Armed Forces Act has worked in practice once it has come into force. The Ministry of Defence should submit a memorandum to the Defence Committee 24 months after the legislation is enacted, which the Committee could then use as the basis for this work. (Paragraph 45)

The Service Justice System

11.The intention of the Lyons review was to ensure that the SJS remained “necessary, fair and efficient”, and this Bill (combined with the non-legislative measures accepted by the Government and in the process of being implemented) demonstrates a commitment to improving the system and ensuring it has the confidence of those subject to it and of the public at large. We have heard from those closely involved that confidence in the investigative function of the SJS is imperative, and while the ongoing work in the area does not require legislation, it is no less important. (Paragraph 57)

12.We therefore welcome efforts to reform the Service Justice System following the Lyons review. We do, however, recognise some concerns remain surrounding concurrent jurisdiction and the decision not to implement this recommendation of the Lyons Review. The Ministry of Defence should work quickly to introduce the Defence Serious Crime Capability, and ensure clear protocols are in place to allow effective cooperation with civilian police forces. (Paragraph 58)

The Service Complaints System

13.We welcome efforts to speed up the complaints process, provided that necessary safeguards remain in place to ensure fair access. Concerns remain around the Service Complaints System, particularly tackling delay which reduces confidence and negatively impacts all parties. It is particularly concerning that female and BAME personnel continue to be overrepresented amongst complainants and we note with concern that the response to our survey indicated that only 15% of respondents believe the decision to reduce the time limit in which an appeal can be made from 6 weeks to 2 weeks gave them enough time to receive “fair treatment”. We also note that 34.8% of respondents responded that they were “not sure” and there therefore needs to be greater clarity on this matter. The Ministry of Defence should prioritise implementing all recommendations of the Wigston review within 6 months, ensuring solutions take account of the needs of victims and provide appropriate avenues to redress external to the single Services’ chain of command where needed. (Paragraph 65)

Additional Areas of Scrutiny

14.We are in no doubt that the majority of Service people benefit enormously from their time in the Services and heard encouraging evidence that the experience of those with protected characteristics has improved. However specific concerns remain, and we recognise there is more to be done. Diversity is a source of strength for the Armed Forces and all should welcome and encourage a more diverse Armed Forces. We recommend that a metric be added to the Annual Report on the Armed Forces Covenant to report on the experience of those with protected characteristics. (Paragraph 73)

15.The Minister for Defence People and Veterans committed to “find a mechanism of restorative justice” for veterans dismissed due to their perceived sexuality during the years of the ban on homosexuality and the Minister should report back to the House on progress within three months. (Paragraph 74)

16.We fully support the important work of the Defence Committee’s Sub-Committee on Women in the Armed Forces. Once it has reported, the Ministry of Defence should carefully consider its conclusions and recommendations. (Paragraph 75)

17.We welcome the fact that the provision of healthcare to veterans, particularly in mental health, is improving. More however, should be done. We recommend that:

a.The Government urgently set out how it plans to meet targets for the Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service, Complex Treatment Services and Improving Access to Psychological Therapy;

b.Further work be done to ensure that the principle of “priority treatment” is better understood by both veterans and service providers;

c.Work be undertaken to minimise variation in the level of services across the UK, with specific funding required in Northern Ireland to deal with the challenges faced by veterans attempting to access mental health services there; and

d.Work be undertaken to improve data collection with regard to the numbers of serving personnel and veterans requiring treatment for addiction and other mental health illnesses. The Minister gave a commitment that there should be “a single front door and clear pathway people can navigate” for treatment for addiction and other mental health issues and we encourage the Department to do further work on this, alongside the NHS and partners such as Tom Harrison House. (Paragraph 82)

18.The level of satisfaction for personnel and families living in Service housing is still too low. Whilst work has been undertaken to improve this, accommodation is an area that needs to be prioritised by the Ministry of Defence. The Committee notes that by excluding central government as a responsible public body, Service accommodation is not covered by the duty of due regard. The Government may wish to consider adding this as an area where the duty applies in the future. (Paragraph 86)

Published: 22 April 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement