Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 960 - 979)

TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001 (Morning sitting)


  960. It has been suggested to us that the level of AWOL for Service personnel under 18 is increasing considerably.
  (Mr Miller) Clearly, we do not have the statistics, but that is not our general impression.

Mr Key

  961. I raised earlier the question of non-statutory rules and regulations that are faced by servicemen and their legal representatives. Obviously, if we are talking about Army legal service, or indeed RAF, they are familiar with and have full access to Queen's Regulations, Standing Orders and so on, but the civilian lawyer really does not, and a lot of it is classified to some degree or other. I think there is some more openness now happening, and, indeed, in answer to a Parliamentary Question of mine there was a lot more put in the library of the House—which is, I suppose, tantamount to publishing it. Do you feel that the Ministry of Defence is being too secretive about the wrong things and that, as a result, justice suffers?
  (Mr Miller) To answer the implied question, the majority of the documents that will be needed for the preparation of the defence of an individual are public documents. So there is no reason at all why a solicitor should have difficulty in getting hold of them. We are not conscious, again, of any specific problems and it was only when the evidence was given by the representative of Forces Law that I became aware of this. I think if any solicitor has difficulties with locating specific documents they could always make contact with us and we will facilitate that.

  962. Brigadier, do you want to add something?
  (Brigadier Cottam) Madam Chairman, there is just one point of detail which may have been the cause of this inquiry which can easily be put right. The Army General Administrative Instruction 70 that deals specifically with redress, which has just been republished, has been republished with a restrictive heading, which was not the intent. It would be very easy for us to put that right and it is just possible that that is the issue that has arisen. Of course, the soldiers themselves have every right to have that document and, therefore, they can discuss it with their solicitor and would normally and easily be given the right so to do if they were put in that position because of making a redress, and the chain of command would allow that. It is just possible that that has been rather harshly referred to, and we will put that right. It does not represent any real bar, at the moment, to access to that document.


  963. Can we now then move on to the under-18s issues that have been raised with us. I am well aware this has come under scrutiny by previous Committees as well. Some of the points that have been made are certainly not new issues. Can I open up by asking how long must a recruit who joins the Services at 16 serve if they do not exercise their right to leave within six months? Has this changed since our predecessors reported and made their recommendations in 1996?
  (Mr Miller) Apart from the right to leave within the first six months, an individual under the age of 18 can be discharged under what is known as "the arrangements for unhappy juniors". In other words, any young serviceman or woman who is clearly unhappy and unsuited for Service life can be discharged at any point until they reach the age of 18 or in some cases 18 years and three months. The minimum return of service required differs between the three Services—differs in detail; in some cases it counts from the age of 18 and in others it counts from the point of completing initial training. Effectively, it means that you are tied to the service for between three and four years from the age of 18. That is the general range.

Mr Keetch

  964. Can you just explain to us what happens when somebody joins the service at 16 and they do not exercise their right to leave after six months? How long do they have to stay in the Armed Services?
  (Mr Miller) Again, if he is actively unhappy he can be discharged at any stage up to the age of 18 years and three months. There is some variation, but effectively until he reaches the age of majority.

  965. Is that the same in all three Services?
  (Mr Miller) Yes.

  966. Has that changed recently at all?
  (Mr Miller) The Navy have had that particular provision for many years. I am less sure about the other two Services when the change was actually made, but it has certainly been in for some time.

  967. It has been suggested to us that this is a problem. We had evidence, and I am sure you have seen it, from At Ease.
  (Mr Miller) There are periodic problems with youngsters who find themselves unsuited to Service life and are unhappy and remain beyond the six-month point. That is why these provisions are there, because it certainly is not in the Services' interest to keep a youngster in those circumstances, never mind his or her interests.

Mr Watts

  968. Can I be quite clear. You say there is provision for unhappy young people to leave the forces. Is that automatic if they are unhappy? Can they leave? Are they allowed to leave?
  (Mr Miller) Leaving within the first six months is an absolute right.

  969. After that?
  (Mr Miller) It would be for the youngster to demonstrate effectively that he was unhappy and unsuited. I have to say that in practice I have never known of cases in which a commanding officer was difficult about a youngster saying he wanted to leave.

  970. Do you have any figures for applications made and applications granted?
  (Mr Miller) I certainly have not got any here. I do not know whether they exist or not.


  971. After the six months it is at the discretion of the commanding officer?
  (Mr Miller) Yes.
  (Brigadier Cottam) Madam Chairman, it is more than merely discretion. There is a specific Queen's Regulation, 9414D(3), which sets out a specific requirement on the commanding officer to keep a note of these unhappy juniors, to watch closely their situation and, at no stage, preventing them the right to elect to leave up to the age of 18 and, in the Army's case, the age of 18 and three months, which gives some recognition of the period of time as they adjust to adult service—perhaps by that stage they are in an adult unit as opposed to still in the training system —to give that small amount of additional time. That is a very specific requirement rather than something that is purely reliant on the commander's judgment, although of course it still is, to a great extent, as well.

Mr Crausby

  972. How clear is it at 16 that they may have to serve between six months and x years, effectively? I am sure that is explained to them but do they absolutely understand the implications of that?
  (Mr Miller) It is spelled out very clearly to them during the recruiting process. Indeed, I have been in the recruiting office when it was spelled out to a young man. Even allowing for the fact that the recruiting sergeant may have been going through it with particular care because I was there, the procedures are there and it is laid out. The extent to which an individual comprehends what is being meant by the term for which he is signing is something that is impossible to judge.

  973. At 16 it is a third of their life again. I just wondered how much they understand.
  (Mr Miller) I take the point, and I accept that there may be individuals who, perhaps, only have a fairly hazy idea of what it means. On the other hand, at that age they certainly feel able to commit themselves to all sorts of other things without particular difficulty.

Mr Randall

  974. A couple of points. What would be the procedure after six months for an unhappy junior? Do you have to formally request to see the CO or do you knock on the door and say "Look, I'm really not very happy"?
  (Mr Miller) In the normal way there is a formal process, quite clearly. I think there are two points to make. One is that this clause is not always activated by the individual; there are occasions when the CO himself will take the initiative because he feels the individual is not fitting in well. The second is that I would normally expect, in any such case, that there would have been a certain amount of informal discussion with the youngster's platoon commander or company commander in Army terms, or divisional officer in the Navy or RAF equivalent. Quite likely he would have been advised to give it a try for another couple of months or something, there would undoubtedly have been access to the Chaplaincy and probably to other welfare support, so that by the time he got to see his commanding officer formally there would probably have been quite a background in terms of informal contact and discussion.

  975. At the recruiting stage when you told them "You can leave after six months" would it be also said "If at any time after that you really are seriously unhappy you have the possibility of leaving before you are 18"? I know you would not want to encourage it—
  (Mr Miller) It is not something I can answer from my own experience, but I would certainly expect the point to be registered that there was an option there, and I would expect all the trainees to be well aware of this.

  976. It is unlikely, if somebody was just about coming up to 18, to be told "Give it another couple months and see how you go" and then find themselves out of time?
  (Mr Miller) I really would not have expected the commanding officer of a unit to operate in that way.

  977. You said it does differ between 18 years and 18 years and three months.
  (Mr Miller) The Army work to 18 years and three months.

  978. Do you think there would be a case for standardising that throughout the Services?
  (Mr Miller) There is an argument, I think. We have, of course, been urged by the Defence Committee not to standardise for the sake of standardisation.

  979. Obviously, but would you say there was a case on its own merit for standardisation?
  (Mr Miller) I think this is something that we would want to consider.

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