DEF050314 - No. 12

Session 2004-05, 14 March 2005

Summary of Report


Summary of Report

TRI-SERVICE ARMED FORCES BILL REPORT

Report Summary

The Defence Committee has published a new report into the Tri-Service Armed Forces Bill. A summary of the report follows.

Discipline among Service personnel is crucial to maintaining Operational Effectiveness. The disciplinary systems of the three Armed Services are currently underpinned by three separate Service Discipline Acts. The Government's Strategic Defence Review, published in July 1998, announced that there would be an 'examination of the need for a single tri-Service Discipline Act'. But it has taken until now for concrete proposals to emerge.

The Government plans to introduce a Tri-Service Armed Forces Bill in the 2005-06 parliamentary session. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) asked us to consider its proposals as set out in a memorandum of October 2004 and an updating memorandum of January 2005. We were not provided with any draft clauses, and a number of the proposals need to be developed further. However, we have sought to provide an initial response to the proposals where we could. MoD plans to start consulting on the Bill in mid 2005, prior to introduction in the autumn. This appears to be a challenging timescale if the outcome of the consultation is to be properly reflected in the Bill before it is introduced.

Substantial changes are proposed to the current court martial system, including the creation of a standing court and a single prosecuting authority. The changes are intended to improve both the speed to court martial, and the nature of court martial. Although, in principle, we support the proposed changes to courts martial, there is still much work to be done on the detailed provisions.

The Commanding Officer (CO) is at the heart of the discipline system. Currently, the COs in the three Services have different powers in terms of the cases that can be dealt with summarily and the punishments available to them. A harmonised level of powers has been agreed which, in the case of the Royal Navy, will result in more cases having to be dealt with at court martial. In the other two Services, COs may have to deal with more cases summarily. To achieve the desired results, MoD will need to ensure that Army and RAF COs in particular are fully supported and trained.

MoD's proposals also cover a wide range of other areas, including redress of complaints arrangements and Boards of Inquiry. Many of the proposals need to be developed further. We disagree with MoD over the attendance of next of kin at Boards of Inquiry. We believe that the presumption should be that they should be allowed to attend.

The Government told us that it is committed to proper and effective parliamentary scrutiny of the Tri-Service Armed Forces Bill. The form of this scrutiny will depend to some extent upon the progress with the Bill's preparation and the parliamentary timetable over the coming months. However, we recommend that it comprises a select committee stage, during which witnesses from MoD and the Armed Forces could be examined, and a standing committee stage, at which the bill would be subject to line by line examination in public. 

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. Committee Membership is as follows: Rt Hon Bruce George MP (Chairman), Mr James Cran MP, Mr David Crausby MP, Mike Gapes MP, Mr Mike Hancock CBE MP, Dai Havard MP, Mr Kevan Jones MP, Richard Ottaway MP, Mr Frank Roy MP, Rachel Squire MP, Peter Viggers MP

2. News Release: No. 12

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