Open Letter to All 12 July 2021
SUPPORT FOR AMENDMENTS TO THE ARMED FORCES BILL
1. The Armed Forces Bill (AFB) is due to reach the report stage on 13th July 2021, where the whole House will have the opportunity to discuss and amend the Bill. The AFB Committee has carried out its work in a professional and committed way in a short space of time and in the face of COVID constraints and a large measure of lack of co-operation by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
2. However, the AFB, as it is currently constituted, looks set to miss the opportunity to irrevocably address long-standing inequities and miscarriages of justice, and, instead, unintentionally, will allow the MoD to perpetuate inadequate and unfair systems and procedures. To date, many of the requested amendments, by various MPs, necessary to change the current toxic cultures within MoD have been excluded. The evidence of injustices is more than well established, and, no doubt, will be further exemplified in the forthcoming Women in Defence report by Sarah Atherton.
3. These AFB shortfalls essentially coalesce around the Service Justice System and the Services Complaints System, where the current inherent imbalance of the system weighted against complainants would not be remedied, and, in some instances, worsen. For example, the AFB does not adequately address the whole issue of safeguarding and equity. In fact, the current Clause 10 is retrograde introducing more barriers/deterrence through reducing the appeals against a first instance decision period from six to two weeks, but without imposing similar strictures on the respondent.
4. Significantly, it is stated in the AFB Committee report dated 22nd April 2021 that one of the most important mechanisms, the Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces (SCOAF), is regarded as not fit for purpose with the SCOAF concluding in annual reports for the last six years that the system was “not efficient, effective, or fair.” The MoD has ignored these recommendations for change.
5. In the absence of decisive action from MoD, you may be aware that concerned veterans have established the Independent Defence Authority (IDA), broadly in line with recommendations from MoD’s own 2019 report, conducted by Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Wigston, KCB, CBE, ADC, now serving as Chief of the Air Staff. The Wigston report was a response to MoD long-term failures to address inappropriate and toxic behaviours within defence. The current IDA is already offering an independent body but lacks the legislative power and budget to enact them. It recognised that the AFB is the mechanism to empower those recommendations. Consequently, we are asking Parliament to legislate for a truly independent organisation, out with the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces structures, that has the authority, properly trained staff, and budget to investigate any abuses with penalties invoked plus the authority to enforce recommended systemic changes. Given the long-standing continuation of abuses afflicting both serving personnel and veterans who serve/have served the United Kingdom, the IDA is convinced that real changes will only take place if enshrined in Parliamentary legislation. Hence your role.
6. Supporting an amendment to the AFB, to establish an IDA, would also ensure that a key recommendation of His Honour Judge Shaun Lyons, rejected at the Second Reading of the AFB, that “charges of murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse and rape would be tried only in the civilian courts when the offences are alleged to have been committed in the United Kingdom.” This will mean that the United Kingdom has a uniform legal system based on the crime, not the provenance of the individual. Setting up an IDA, as empowered regulator, would mean the current Service Ombudsman’s findings and the recommendations of senior military and judicial representatives can no longer be ignored by MoD as ‘advisory’. It would reduce the fear felt by all service personnel – that they are unable to report injustices, for fear of retribution by their own leadership. It will also ensure that the Armed Forces Covenant will be properly administered on behalf of all of those who serve our country.
7. There are tangible benefits to defence in separating complex HR and judicial decisions from the military chain of command. Whilst it will allow the military leadership to focus on what they are trained for – military operations and policy, crucially, it will break the cycle where, too often, the chain of command can coerce potential complainants to keep silent, to avoid MoD reputational damage. In short, the establishment of an IDA will be both cheaper and more operationally effective for UK defence. The USA, Canada and other Western militaries are already addressing these abuses. If the AF Bill goes through without significant amendments, the UK will fall further behind.
8. The output from the Women in Defence Report to be delivered by Sarah Atherton MP, the fallout from the current AJAX debacle for the Army, the notoriety engendered by the recent investigation into the most senior ‘non’ commissioned officer would all have been mitigated had there been an independent body able to act as a professional regulator, an OFSTED – type organisation and conscience for Defence. The opportunity to deliver this for the good of Defence and our military capability can now be seized.
9. Ensuring that our Armed Forces, current and past, are fairly treated transcends party political allegiances. We would urge you to take the right course of action and request the insertion of the creation of an IDA as soon as the AFB receives the Royal assent when you and your fellow MPs meet on 13th July.
10. Bottom line, this is a rushed bill that fails to take the opportunity to address many issues highlighted in the Wigston Review into inappropriate behaviours, HH Lyons review into service justice and the continuing toxic behaviour that will be highlighted in the Sarah Atherton MP review into Women in Defence and we believe it is because of the latter that this is being rushed through. Our service personnel, veterans and their families will continue to suffer unless there are changes to the bill as is. Defence needs an external conscience as without it people die, equipment programs fail and abuse continues to be swept under the carpet.
PJ INGRAM MBE
Co-founder The Independent Defence Authority
Annex A: List of evidence, to demonstrate lack of change by UK defence, without legislative action.
Reasons why the MoD are unlikely to enact change without primary legislation in the AF bill.
The Armed Forces Bill 2021 (Bill 244) was introduced to the House of Commons on 26 January 2021 and on 13th July reaches its 3rd reading. Sponsored by the Sec of State for Defence, we note that none of the amendments recommended by concerned witnesses and MPs have been endorsed. This is worrying, as the testimony given, and evidence links below show that UK Defence will not modernise by itself – but will need parliamentary legislation and an empowered regulatory body to achieve meaningful reform. A selection of some of the key background evidence is provided in this annex, to demonstrate UK defence’s track record of ignoring parliamentary inquiries and reports from experts.
Of note, a further two inquiries are now in process of being requested – an inquiry into the treatment of UK based un-manned aerial pilots: and the inadequacies of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) and Veterans UK. The enduring problems in the UK armed forces are not going to be resolved by the AF bill, in its current format.
- Armed Forces Bill Special Report Armed Forces Bill: Special Report – Thursday 22 April 2021 – Hansard – UK Parliament. Key Points:
- The committee faced difficulties when asking MoD to allow access to documents and accommodation sites.
- Acknowledges lack of alternative routes of redress for veterans.
- Acknowledges changes to the Covenant will need monitoring by parliament.
- Felt that following the Lyons review, there WAS commitment to improving the system and recommended MoD work quickly to implement reform.
- On service complaints – MoD to prioritise implementing all recommendation of the Wigston review within 6 months (only 1 of 36 achieved in the last 2 years).
- A mechanism of restorative justice for veterans who have been dismissed due to their perceived sexuality during the years of the (LGBT+) ban- a report expected within 3 months.
- MH care still patchy – slightly better but more still needed.
- Housing standards still too low – legal duty may be needed.
- July 2021. The US report is published into inappropriate behaviours in their armed forces: https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/2681848/sexual-assaults-will-no-longer-be-prosecuted-by-commanders/ Sarah Atherton links their research to the UK inquiry on sexual harassment in the armed forces, considering mutual reform options.
- June 2021. The Sarah Atherton report is overdue – it is likely to make harsh reading on how women and other military minorities are treated, with strong recommendations for cultural and governance change, yet it now reports after the AFB concludes.
- June 2021. The SNP Defence team has acknowledged the need for reform – ideally, this paper could be a cross-party solution – not just for one area of the UK. https://www.stewartmcdonald.scot/files/25.06.21-armed-forces-paper.pdf
- 9th March 2021– HCDSC report on Army’s armoured vehicle capability. https://www.ombudsmanassociation.org/sites/default/files/2020-12/2014.07.08%20-%20Inquiry%20into%20the%20Armed%20Forces%20Bill%20-%20Defence%20Committee.pdf
- The ‘sorry recent history’ of the Army’s attempts at procuring Armoured Vehicles stand out as how shifting priorities and indecision lead to increased cost and failure to deliver.
- Too often MoD has failed to deliver 80% solution today and focused on 100% tomorrow.
- Procurement practices and skills found wanting.
- Insufficient qualified staff and capacity to manage vehicle procurement effectively.
- Given large amounts of taxpayer’s money and importance of capability this appalling situation has now become completely unacceptable.
- December 2020. Women serving and veterans call for a MilitaryMeToo inquiry. Sarah Atherton MP chairs. Over 4000 responses – a summary of 200 women who came forward in the last 12 months, is here. The report is pending. https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/22224/pdf/
- An ineffective and at times, coercive CoC MoD promises changes after report into harassment in army | Military | The Guardian;
- A senior leadership only interested in looking up and managing their own careers; Determination (by military leaders) to retain the status quo that supports that privileged few.
- A biased complaints system, designed to delete and delay.
- Inequity of legal representation – MoD funds pools of lawyers, but not available to victims.
- A career management system that CDS has admitted is designed for men- and run behind closed doors.
- A service justice system that fails its victims. https://centreformilitaryjustice.org.uk/the-armed-forces-bill-2021-a-missed-opportunity-and-some-very-serious-concerns/)
- Defence inclusivity failings a Dstl report. 30 Nov 2020. TIN2.101 Defence Inclusivity Phase 2: The Lived Experience Final Report (parliament.uk)
- Being female and/or BAME negatively impacts the Lived Experience.
- A white male prototype is pervasive and undermines inclusion.
- Issues faced/experiences of minority groups are often unseen.
- Some open resistance to D&I exists.
- Discrimination in various forms persists.
- Evidence of structural discrimination.
- July 2020. CDS admits failings in culture. Nickie Aiken MP backs Parliamentary Inquiry into female military experience | Nickie Aiken
- August 2019. HCDSC review into vexatious complaints in Armed Forces.More failings; more ignored recommendations.https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201919/cmselect/cmdfence/153/15302.htm
- July 2019 – After multiple media reports into toxic behaviours in the military, the MoD commissioned the Wigston review (Wigston Review into inappropriate behaviours – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)), Lyons (Service Justice System review – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk))
Key Findings: 36 recommendations – by 2021, only one enacted
- Must do more to stop instances of inappropriate behaviours occurring. Describes a toxic tribe of privileged white males at top.
- We have to do better when instances have occurred (ie not brushing incidents under carpet)
- We should establish a defence authority.
- A significant number of our people experience bullying, discrimination and harassment including sexual
- The Service Complaints system needs improvement.
- ‘Ultimately it is about the determination of leaders to change the culture; everything else hangs off that’.
- File on 4. July 2019 – report on endemic military sexual abuses BBC Radio 4 – File on 4, Hidden Figures? The True Scale of Military Sexual Allegations
- 2017. Service Justice Review. Judge Lyons. Service Justice System review – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) Key Points:
- The Court Martial jurisdiction should no longer include murder, manslaughter, and rape when these offences are committed in the UK, except when the consent of the Attorney General is given.
- Court Martial Boards should consist of six lay members; verdicts should reach findings by unanimity or a majority of no less than 5:1; if a member is lost and the Board drops to five then unanimity is required; Boards should include OR5 Ranks (Chief Petty Officers and equivalent); in general discipline matters a Board need not be of single service composition.
- 2015-2021. SCOAF annual reports for last 5 years– Downloads – Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces (scoaf.org.uk) – all saying system needs to change, is ineffective, inefficient and unfair. SCOAF reports in testimony to AF committee that her recommendations are ignored.
- 2014 – Inquiry into failings of Service Complaints system leads to set up of Service Ombudsman (SCOAF). INQUIRY INTO THE ARMED FORCES (SERVICE COMPLAINTS AND FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE) BILL (ombudsmanassociation.org)
- October 2009. The Watts-Andrews inquiry. This paper appears to still be withheld from publication, but a pdf we have acquired can be provided to interested MPs. A quote:
- “Intent and Reality. The Panel found a significant mismatch, in some areas of the Army, between the intent of Army policy and the lived experience of its people. A significant number of people have been harassed and do feel undervalued. This is not widely recognised by the chain of command. There seems to be a gap between the lives that the Army corporately believes its people live, and the lives they actually do lead”.
- A key comment is that there is a ‘need to commit to reform.’
- 2006- 2016. Multiple DeepCut reviews (review of 2006; with final apology not until 2016 Cheryl James: Army apologises for Deepcut ‘failings’ – BBC News)
- 2006 review of AFB (demonstrates that little has changed). Armed Forces Bill: Special Report of Session 2005-06 – Great Britain: Parliament: House of Commons: Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill – Google Books
- Repeated media stories of AF failures– and poor retention of scarce talent. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/02/13/mod-facing-exodus-medics-gender-attitudes-30-40-years-behind/
- 1995 Bett Report. Personnel issues and the Bett report: The RUSI Journal: Vol 140, No 4 (tandfonline.com) He concluded in 95, that ‘the successful implementation of change is the critical challenge facing the British Armed Forces Today’ (1995).
 Please see Annex A which provides a list of reports/enquiries issued over the past 16 years setting out the issues and what are now recommendations not implemented.