Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 9

Further Memorandum from the Ministry of Defence (21 December 2000)

PROTECTIVE HEADGEAR REQUIREMENTS FOR SIKH PERSONNEL IN THE ARMED FORCES

  1.  The Armed Forces are determined to remove, as far as possible, any barriers which may prevent minority personnel from joining. For this reason, the issue of personal protective equipment for Sikhs in the Armed Forces was the subject of a detailed examination in 1997 and again in 1999. During these reviews we consulted widely across the public and private sector, and with Sikh organisations in the UK, before considering the legal, operational and financial implications of a change in the current policy. In January 2000, Ministers decided that there should be no change to the policy which allows Sikh personnel serving in the Armed Forces to wear their turbans at all times except where a risk assessment has concluded that, for health and safety reasons and for the purposes of operational effectiveness, protective headgear must be worn.

  2.  The Committee will be aware that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and its subordinate legislation place statutory obligations on employers to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety and welfare at work of all their employees. It imposes also a duty on employers to ensure that any personal protective equipment provided to their employees is properly used. Employees also have a statutory duty to comply with the safety measures introduced by their employer to reduce the likelihood of harm to them or other persons and to ensure that their actions do not increase the risk of harm to their colleagues or others.

  3.  Under the regulations there is an all-embracing requirement on employers to make, record, act on, monitor and review risk assessments. By law, these have to be recorded for employers with five or more employees and identify any group especially vulnerable to particular risks. These regulations also contain provisions requiring the employer to carry out assessments to ensure that any personal protective equipment provided is compatible and effective against the risks in question. All three Services undertake regular risk assessments to comply with the statutory requirement. Through such assessments the policy on the wearing of protective equipment, throughout the Services, has been determined by taking into account the degree of risk both to the individual and others. By providing a range of personal protective equipment, the Services have identified risks to which Service personnel may be exposed whilst at work. Against the risk of injury or death in a nuclear, biological or chemical environment, for example, all Service personnel are provided with full respiratory protection by being issued with, and trained to correctly wear, the S10 respirator.

  4.  Some professions in the Armed Forces require specialist headgear to be worn, especially under operational circumstances. Examples of this are commanders' helmets in armoured fighting vehicles, combat helmets, breathing apparatus for fire fighters and flying helmets for aircrew in some types of aircraft. Turbans are physically incompatible with specialist headgear that must be worn on health and safety grounds. Male Sikh personnel can normally wear a patka under specialist headgear; however, this is not possible under a flying helmet which must be closely fitted to the contours of the head. Aircrew with long hair, male and female, may be required to have their hair cut short in order to achieve a satisfactory fit of a flying helmet.

  5.  We recognise that a policy which allows Sikhs to wear turbans at all times, in all operational circumstances, would be welcomed by some quarters of the Sikh community. However the Armed Forces have a duty, from both a legal and operational perspective, to ensure that, in hazardous circumstances, all personnel are properly and fully protected from whatever danger exists whenever practicable.

WORKING HOURS

  1.  The Working Time Regulations apply to the Armed Forces, but in recognition of the overriding need to maintain operational effectiveness, important exemptions have been granted which allow the Services considerable flexibility when characteristics of work peculiar to the Armed Forces inevitably conflict with the Working Time Regulations. Essentially, the inevitable conflict exemption applies to:

    —  operations;

    —  direct support for operations;

    —  exercises simulating operational conditions, including their direct support; and

    —  operational training.

  2.  In addition, the Armed Forces are exempt from having to keep records to show whether the limits set by the Regulations are being complied with. A clock watching culture is at odds with the ethos of the Armed Forces and their unlimited liability.

  3.  Throughout their careers all Service personnel can expect fluctuation in their working hours and, whilst actual hours worked will vary according to activity and theatre, over the 17 week standard reference period, or 26 week period under certain circumstances, taking account of the exemptions listed above, the Services comply with the Regulations.

  4.  The Services' unlimited liability for duty is reflected in levels of Service pay through the "X-factor" which is added to basic pay (currently 13%) to reflect the overall balance of advantages and disadvantages experienced by members of the Armed Forces which cannot be taken into account when assessing pay comparability.

MESS CHARGES

  1.  The Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) currently recommends food charges at two levels for:

    —  Single personnel, and

    —  Married unaccompanied personnel living in single accommodation (at a lower food charge than for single personnel).

  2.  The AFPRB base their food charge recommendations on the level of civilian food expenditure obtained through the Family Expenditure Survey (FES), which shows that the cost per person eating at home is greater for those living on their own than for a married couple. Whilst the AFPRB is concerned that the current régime is unsatisfactory, they have agreed to await the results of the MoD study which is reviewing the feasibility of introducing a Pay As You Dine (PAYD) scheme to replace the current food charges régime for living-in personnel and thereby enable food charges to be related to the actual food eaten.

  3.  Married unaccompanied personnel, who have a continuing commitment to maintain a family home, are exempt from paying single accommodation charges when sent on temporary or detached duty. This regulation ensures that, as far as possible, individuals are no worse off as far as accommodation charges are concerned when sent on temporary or detached duty.

  4.  Taken together with the lower food charges, this accounts for the differences in charges referred to by the Committee.

PARTNERS

  1.  The Armed Forces Overarching Personnel Policy Strategy sets out our "Vision" for Armed Forces personnel as follows:

    "To generate and maintain modern, joint battle-winning forces, by placing Service personnel and their families at the centre of our plans, investing in them and giving them confidence for the future".

  2.  The Department has been keeping under review the differences in entitlements between married and unmarried personnel (some of whom may have a partner and other family responsibilities).

  3.  Most personal entitlements are based on need rather than marital status (although eligibility for Service Family Accommodation is a notable exception).

  4.  Marriage provides a strong foundation for stability for the care of children. It also sets out rights and responsibilities for all concerned. It remains the choice of the majority of the people in Britain. Nonetheless, cohabiting unions are now relatively more frequent, albeit that they tend to be less durable. It is timely for MoD to consider its policy in the light of these social trends and the approaches of other employers at home and abroad.

  5.  MoD is currently gathering information from a variety of employers, public and private, and from the Armed Forces of other countries, on their policies and experiences. Some limited information on attitudes within the UK Armed Forces towards these issues is available from responses to the Continuous Attitude Surveys, views advanced by the Service Families Associations and from anecdotal evidence. This information is not entirely consistent or comparable. It would be fair to say that views are mixed. One option would be to seek harder information from a more specific and focused survey.

  6.  Aspects to be considered in any evaluation of the current policy include:

    —  issues of principle;

    —  social and legal trends;

    —  need and fairness, as between married and unmarried personnel, and between unmarried personnel with partners and other unmarried personnel;

    —  the criteria for defining a partnership, were any widening of eligibility to be contemplated;

    —  acceptability of policy in this area to Service personnel;

    —  likely effects on recruitment/retention; and

    —  financial implications.

  7.  The Department would not expect to reach conclusions on these important and sensitive issues for some little time.

WORKING FAMILIES TAX CREDIT

  1.  Working Families Tax Credit is administered by the Inland Revenue having replaced Family Credit administered by the Department of Social Security in October 1999. It is a far more generous scheme and aims to ensure that many more families on low and middle income can keep more of what they earn. The Tax Credit also includes help towards the cost of childcare.

  2.  The MoD does not hold collective records on the number of Service personnel claiming Working Families Tax Credit. In the UK either the Service person or their spouse may claim, therefore the tax credit will not necessarily be paid through the Service person's pay. However, overseas the MoD has a similar "shadow" scheme, which some 1,100 Army, 200 RAF and four RN personnel claim.


 
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