Lord Monroe Palmer writes…Armed Forces Bill is a step towards a fairer society

090103-M-6058R-012This week saw the Second Reading in The Lords of a Bill welcomed by the Liberal Democrats. It bears the unattractive title ‘Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill’ but builds towards our manifesto pledge to create a fair deal for our service personnel. A promise that has particular significance ahead of Armed Forces Day on Saturday.

The Bill deals with three matters: the creation of a Service Complaints Ombudsman; the reform of the service complaints system; and ensuring financial assistance to charities and other organisations which support the Armed Forces community.

The heads of the three Armed Forces have publicly stated their support for the Bill, but we pressed for meeting the representatives of the service chiefs and the current commissioner, so that The Lords can have their first-hand assessment. I am sometimes wary of public statements when we do not get to grips with the actual person who made the statement.

The current Service Complaints Commissioner stated that she could not provide an assurance that the current system was working in its present format. She was also critical of the length of time that it took to resolve complaints, particularly those relating to bullying and harassment. I am pleased that the Bill makes the legislative changes required to take forward the needed reforms. The current Service Complaints Commissioner has also stated that the Bill will bring:

Substantial improvements to the fairness of the complaints system, the time it takes for complaints to be resolved and increase the level of confidence Service personnel have in the process

One criticism that has been made is that the ombudsman will not apparently have the power to undertake on his/her own initiative a thematic inquiry into issues of the public interest. I agree that the Bill is correct in leaving the power to investigate the substance of individual complaints within the current internal system, thus not intruding into the chain of command. However, the question is: if there are substantial systemic issues, which always happen in any organisation, should the new ombudsman have the power to highlight these issues and make recommendations to the Defence Council?

Liberal Democrats will in the course of the Bill ask for the Ombudsman to have the ability in compelling circumstances to deal with the substance of the complaint as distinct from only investigating the process. Secondly, we will be asking for Ombudsman power to issue reports concerning any investigation considered to be in the public interest

We will also investigate why the Bill makes no reference to the sanctions which would apply if the ombudsman’s investigation shows maladministration. What compensation should the aggrieved party receive? Would the complainant receive the compensation, or would the guilty party just be fined by the Defence Council?

There appears to have been general approval of this Bill, a promising sign for securing our goal of a fairer deal for those in the Armed Forces. There is a very good chance that this will be another win for the Liberal Democrats in our ongoing campaign towards a fairer society for all.

 

 

 

* Monroe Palmer (Lord Palmer of Childs Hill) is a Lib Dem peer who speaks on defence and international affairs

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9 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Jun '14 - 7:08pm

    I found this post hard to follow, but I am interested in it. I think the Armed Forces need reform, but the reforms needed, in my opinion, involve things such as making it easier to become a conscientious objector. There are many people who are interested in the Armed Forces, but not many people want to risk their life for another Iraq 2003 style invasion.

    By the way, I see the moral case for intervening in Iraq right now, but the 2003 invasion when the country was pretty stable was a disaster.

    We also need to always ensure we look after our armed forces personnel the best we can with the best equipment, good pay and pensions and with honours too. We can’t just hack away at the defence budget. The 2015-2020 parliament is going to be a difficult one!

  • A Social Liberal 26th Jun '14 - 12:54am

    Eddie

    Do you have personal experience of the conscientious objector process within HM Armed Forces to be able to make the comments that you do?

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Jun '14 - 8:11am

    Kind of. I researched it and from what I could find you can apply for CO status but it might not be granted. I spent hours researching it, I’m not just making off the cuff comments left right and centre about things I don’t understand.

  • Surely conscientious objection is only a factor in a system of enforced military service( conscription).

    Any person with conscience based objections to war fighting today has the absolute right to not enlist in the military.

    Unless of course you are advocating a non war fighting career path in the military for those who just want a secure public sector job with a good pension without any risks, which seems a contradiction.

    War fighting and a military career cannot be compared to a benign 30 year career at the local council. A military career is incumbent on the requirement that nearly everybody even cooks and clerks pick up a weapon when necessary and fight, you don’t need 25% of an 800 strong battalion having a choice of whether they are prepared to fight and defend their mates , and you certainly don’t need 200 non-combatant stretcher bearers.

    Politicians are already well down the road to destroying our armed forces effectiveness, this idea is the politics of the lunatic asylum, might I suggest you look up the word ‘military’ in the dictionary. Having an effective military is a serious business, it is not an adjunct to a career as a binman or swimming pool lifesaver, unless of course you are advocating that the disabled in wheelchairs should be allowed to be binmen, or that swimming pool lifesavers should not have to be able to swim to get the job.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Jun '14 - 8:30pm

    Raddiy, you make a good point about my suggestion leading to people free-riding on the military, but I think one of the reasons there is a recruitment problem, especially among reserves, is the legacy of Iraq and the negative effect I think it has had on the prestige of a military career.

    Of course, I still think very highly of soldiers, I’m just saying I think Iraq was a bit of a game changer for the reputation of the armed forces and our country in general.

    Regards

  • jedibeeftrix 26th Jun '14 - 8:55pm

    “Surely conscientious objection is only a factor in a system of enforced military service( conscription).
    Any person with conscience based objections to war fighting today has the absolute right to not enlist in the military.
    Unless of course you are advocating a non war fighting career path in the military for those who just want a secure public sector job with a good pension without any risks, which seems a contradiction.
    War fighting and a military career cannot be compared to a benign 30 year career at the local council”

    Agreed, Raddiy.

    This might be acceptable in the german army, where there is a strong ethos of a defence force, but it does not hold for a country with what lindley-french terms our missionary foriegn policy.

    HMF is a war fighting machine, and people are required to fight when HMG says so.

  • A Social Liberal 27th Jun '14 - 12:04am

    Not quite right Jedi, things have changed somewhat since we were in. As I understand it, if someone serving disagrees with our country declaring war on a state then, so long as their unit has not received its order to move an application to resign from service will be looked on favourably. Glenton’s unit and Kendall-Smith both had received their orders when the two refused their service, the former deserting and going on the run.

  • A Social Liberal 27th Jun '14 - 12:07am

    To add to the above
    Griffin, the SAS soldier who refused to go back to Iraq, demonstrated the correct way for someone in the services to refuse his service.

  • jedibeeftrix 27th Jun '14 - 10:57am

    sure, this is fine. there are no absolutes, and there is nothing wrong with this compromise.

    but people join in the explicit knowledge that HMF is a war-fighting force at the beck and call of an interventionist foriegn policy, not a continental defence force that might occasionally engage in some peace-keeping (note: note peace-making).

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