Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of witness (Questions 60-79)

THURSDAY 1 MARCH 2001

ADMIRAL SIR MICHAEL BOYCE, GCB, CBE Chief of Defence Staff

Mr Hancock


  60. Can I, first of all, welcome you here, it is nice to see one of Portsmouth's admirals surviving the job in Portsmouth, to stay in both the Navy and in the military. Congratulations to you. It is normally the swan song of the Admiral, and you are the exception. Can I raise with you some questions that have been posed from the Committee and from our own experience recently, obviously the most important one is the state of morale in the forces generally, and then I would like to ask some questions about Pay 2000. Would you quickly like to deal with the one about the general state of morale in the forces?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I would like to answer it by saying—I hope I am not pre-empting a question you are going to ask me later on—if you track over the last 20 or so years and draw a graph of the rise and fall of the economy and unemployment in the country and then put on top of it this graph of how retention goes up and down you would see that it follows very closely. When economy is good retention is bad and when the economy is bad the retention is good. Bucking the trend at the moment, retention is pretty reasonable against the fact that we have quite a good economy and relatively low unemployment in the country at the moment. To a certain extent that answers your question. I believe that people in the Services at the moment are highly motivated by the jobs they are invited to do. They are proud of what they do. They see themselves getting results. Certainly the soldiers, sailors and airmen I visit and meet after operations are very much fired up for what they do. We have deployed a lot more effort over the last couple of years and you might say, "Not before time too", and I would agree, on looking after our people better and recognising when they are being stretched hard. We must take their welfare to heart and make sure that their families are looked after when they are away and they themselves when they are on deployment. We must do everything we can for them to make their life as sensibly good as possible, in terms of communications home, facilities out on the battle field or on the operational field they are in, and so forth. I believe that at the moment morale is not too bad. My measuring stick for saying that is the fact that retention, which at the moment should be pretty bad, is not very bad. It could always be better, but it is not as bad as it should be.

  61. This week I had a letter from one of your senior enlisted personnel, before I ask you some questions I would just like to read to you what he said to me at the beginning of his letter, "When I joined the Royal Navy some 24 years ago I joined to get away from the civilian way of life and employment rules. I was proud to sign a contract with the Royal Navy to serve my Queen and country and the Royal Navy. In fact, I was prepared to give the ultimate sacrifice of my life, which very nearly happened whilst serving in the Falklands on HMS Sheffield, which was sunk in 1982". He then goes on to raise the very interesting and divisive nature of Pay 2000 and the way it is affecting enlisting men. His point is, "According to Second Sea Lord, Vice-Admiral Spencer, job evaluation is not yet robust enough for accurate officer evaluation to be made". Not robust enough for officers, but robust enough for enlisted personnel. What is your answer to that?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I do not recollect that, I am not saying he did not say that, I do not recollect or know in what context Admiral Spencer made that particular comment. I do know that the job evaluation process has not yet completed. In order to bring in the new pay system, which was introduced in this year's Armed Forces Pay Review Body report, the work on the job evaluation for the other rank branches has just about been completed and that for officers is still being completed. In terms of being robust, I do not accept that, for example, depending on the context that was said, I know job evaluation has been done and is being applied for all of the officers who are above one star ranks and, indeed, pay is being set against that job evaluation.

  62. Maybe it is middle management, as always, who are getting away with that, while the top and the bottom suffer. One of your personnel said, in his 24 years of service this is the most divisive issue that has ever been raised in his experience. He goes on to say, "As a warrant officer with 10 years still to serve in the lower band I have only one increment of £1.56 available to me in the next 10 years. Is that supposed to improve performance". He has 10 more years to serve in the Navy and the only increment is a meagre £1.56. That is hardly an incentive or a robust incentive to retain him, is it?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Again, the actual specifics of this particular person, obviously I cannot comment on, I would like to comment on increments and also Pay 2000 and about the way we are doing our pay in the Services. You probably had a more informed answer from the Principal Personnel Officers when you talked to them. We believe that it is entirely proper that we should base our pay on job evaluation. That is what Pay 2000 has done, it is to bring in a system where people's jobs are evaluated and the pay is set according to the weight of a person's job. If we were starting with a clean sheet of paper we would be mad to do anything else other than that. Transitioning from the system we had before to where we are now is clearly going to cause some people some difficulty, where they perceive they might not be quite so well off in the future as they might have been otherwise. I would like to stress very, very firmly, however, that nobody—nobody—has had a pay cut in the armed forces as a result of Pay 2000. On the subject of this warrant officer's increment, one of the things which I disliked intensely about the old pay system was a person, such as this person, would be promoted to, say, the rank of warrant officer, he would have no increments for the rest of his career and what Pay 2000 has done is to introduce an incremental pay system. The consistent complaint that I have had throughout my service from the rating structure, from the other rank structure, is just this very point. You become a leading stoker, you are on a roster, you are on an advancement system which takes you probably eight to 10 to 12 years to get promoted and for that entire eight to 10 to 12 years you get no incremental improvement in your pay. Yes, you get the annual inflationary pay award but there is no increment. The same would apply to this warrant officer, so the fact he is now complaining he is only going to get one increment in these next 10 years, last year he would have had no increments coming his way. The system has just produced him an increment. Okay, it is only a very small one and one would have to look to see what that is, but he is better off now than he was under the past system and he is complaining about it. What he is complaining about is not being so well off as he probably would hope he might have been, but he is actually better off.

  63. Then if you look at his colleagues in the other Services, and the Army I would suggest to you are going to be facing an even worse position than the Navy in this respect, you will have a situation where you will have a senior NCO who will actually be earning less than the person who is directly below him. He will actually be in charge of people where his pay will be effectively less. Your colleagues behind you are shaking their heads but I can assure you, having spoken to the people concerned, that is in fact the case. You would have a warrant officer on, say, £77 a day and the band below on £87 a day. That is £10 a day difference.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) You are quite right, Mr Hancock, that does happen. There are areas where there is pay overlap within the system but I might point out that, for example, a senior warrant officer who comes under the command of a junior lieutenant is being paid more than a junior lieutenant. The pay overlap system is one which has been in the service for as long as I can remember. There is nothing particularly unusual about that. Indeed, I do not find it remarkable at all that a person who has been giving excellent service but for various reasons has not made promotion should not be able to continue to increment his way up his own pay spine, if you like, and may well overlap someone who is carrying a senior rank. That person has got greater potential to go further. Eventually the person who is on increments will stop, there is a ceiling.

  64. Yes.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) For senior, his increments will take him further so there may be a period for a short time where there may be an overlap for about a year or two but eventually that more senior person will finish up much better off than the other person.

  65. That must cause some real concerns about discipline and morale amongst those personnel taking on a lot of responsibility and yet are in charge of men and women who are earning more than they are. There is also this problem that some of the service personnel feel that you are trying to compare their military-style job to a civilian job and the comparisons in Pay 2000 are geared against civilian jobs which in the main bear very little resemblance to somebody who has trained on electronic warfare, for example.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The whole of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body's ethos is based on comparability with the civil sector—there is nothing new—and has been so since 1979 when the military structure was introduced. There is nothing new about comparing the civilians from now than it has been for the last 25 to 30 years.

  66. This is one of the reasons why people have sought to move on, is it not? They have felt let down by the military for not defending the special role. We all claim to have a special place in our hearts for the Armed Forces except when it comes to paying them and giving them proper conditions of service. That was part of the problem that was explained to us when we did our report on personnel matters for the retention of particularly young service personnel who might have done six or seven years, they get frustrated, they see little future and they go out.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We very much put our lives in the hands of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, a body which I respect and which I believe is largely respected by the people in the Armed Forces. I think they produce fair reports. Pay has never been particularly an issue over the last few years. It has become an issue this year because we have introduced this new system which people are coming to grips with still, it has only been around for four weeks. It is certainly true that some people will consider it divisive because they do not think they are going to be as well off as they should be, but they are actually better off than they were. This is what I find strange, that people have been given something and now they actually want more, which I suppose is a human trait. This particular warrant officer sounds as if he might be in that category. I do not deny that we need to do even more work still than we have already done in persuading people this is the right way for us to go. The business about comparing ourselves with the civil sector, as I say, is at the very heart of our pay system, as it has been since 1979. As I say, the Armed Forces Pay Review Body have not suggested in their last report or, indeed, any recent reports, certainly so far as all ranks below one star rank down to the most junior ranks are not being paid fairly. The only time they have ever made comments about people being paid unfairly are those people of senior ranks who they think are miles behind the rest of the civil sector.

  Chairman: I am sure you will not be complaining about your salary, Sir Michael, having just seen what it is. Laura.

Laura Moffatt

  67. I am going to continue this theme, if I may, of recruitment and retention but I just need to ask you one question first. Do you really believe that you need to physically abuse children to make them good citizens and fit for the Armed Forces?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) No.

  68. Do you need to give them clips around the ear?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I never said that.

  69. Let us just get it on record that you never said it. We have tons of clippings which say you did.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The point I was trying to make, since you give me the opportunity, what I said in the report, which I presume you are quoting from, which is The Sunday Telegraph or whatever, I said when I was a boy the odd clip round the earhole used to sharpen people up a bit. The point I was trying to make, however, which I think is a very important point, for a variety of reasons, is that we tend to find nowadays that young people coming into the services—the Army, Navy and Air Force—tend to be fairly unfit, sometimes they have behavioural problems and they are certainly not used to a disciplined form of life. This presents us with a problem in getting through the training machine and we have had to adjust our training processes in order to recognise this is how they arrive and change the way we actually manage them to make sure we actually get them out of the gate at the far end as fit young people. What the paper did not say, and the point I was trying to make, is there are two aspects to that. First of all, Chairman, if you and the Committee have never done this I would highly commend it as a thoroughly enjoyable and, in fact, joyful experience, to go down to one of our new entry training establishments and watch a passing out parade and see the highly overwrought and emotional mothers and fathers at the end of that passing out parade—in the happy sense I mean that—who eight weeks before had dumped off their girl or boy in the training establishment and see this new person who is looking smart, articulate, fit, competent and everything else is a genuine wonder. Then some years on we then discharge these people back into the community as pillars of that community. I believe that what the Services actually offer the country in this process, first of all in taking these young people and making them really good upstanding young people and later on giving back to the community people who are of huge value, is a service that the armed forces do for the country which is a necessary benefit.

  Mr Cann: Hear! Hear!

Laura Moffatt

  70. There is nobody here who would disagree with you, I am not entirely sure that group of mothers or fathers felt that they necessarily had to hit their children around the head to get there.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I am sure they should not have to do so either.

  71. Let us move on to the issue of women. I am sure you have by your bedside our wonderful report on the Policy for People. I suspect the Committee was either absolutely delighted as I was, or horrified as some Members would be, to read your statements on women in the Armed Forces. If I may just read out a piece that we really want people to take notice of. It says: "It is not made clear, in enunciating this policy on women in combat roles, whether this exclusion is on the grounds of physiological ability or moral distaste for women having to do such work. If it is the latter, it is time it was abandoned". In our report we accept that but what we would like to explore with you are the very physical difficulties from your experience of having women in those positions and being able to accept them. Certainly as a submariner we would like your views on, perhaps, women in submarines, first of all?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The reason why I cannot recommend that women should go to submarines is because in a diesel submarine it is necessary, in order to recharge your batteries, to suck air into the submarine when you run your diesel and, therefore, the air inside the submarine is changed frequently, at least daily, if not more often. In a nuclear submarine when you shut the hatch you enclose yourself in a steel tube for up to two or three months and no air is changed at all. You exist on artificial air created by a machine which creates oxygen and a machine which absorbs carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other noxious gases. In a nuclear submarine the particular level of gas mix you get is not the same as you are breathing here at the moment, it is slightly down on oxygen and slightly up on carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. This particular mixture is not harmful to an adult, however expert medical opinion has told us that there could be damage to a foetus. There is no way, in spite of what your report implies, that I am aware of anyway, that a woman who goes to sea in a submarine who may have conceived the night before is going to know that she is pregnant the day the submarine goes to sea. She will probably not know for some days afterwards. Therefore, for duty of care reasons it would be irresponsible—until we get to the bottom of whether or not the foetus can be harmed—for us to send women to sea, because it is conceivable they could be pregnant unknowingly when they went to sea in that submarine for two or three months.

  72. That is just not a reason to say, no women, ever in nuclear submarines. Is there work going on to examine that?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) We have consulted with our own Institution of Naval Medicine and we have consulted with the royal colleges and so far nobody has been able to convince me or tell me there is not a danger, in fact quite the opposite.

  73. They are not saying to you, it is not safe, they are just not convincing you that it is safe.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The data they have is that there is a risk for a foetus and, therefore, it would be irresponsible to send women to sea in that situation.

  74. Okay. Thank you for that. Could you talk about woman in general in combat roles?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) Women are in about 70 per cent of Army and Navy billets and about 96 per cent of Air Force billets, where they perform extremely important roles and perform them extremely well. The areas where they are not currently are in the Infantry, in the Armoured Corps, in the Army, in the Royal Marine Commandos and in the Royal Air Force Regiment. The sort of jobs and the type of fighting that they are required to do, where they are currently able to go, are significantly different to the type of fighting that they would be required to do as infantry personnel. What we are doing at the moment, and what the Army is doing at the moment, is studying exactly how having women in the infantry would affect the fighting capability of the infantry. I am entirely happy and I totally applaud the way that women have been integrated into the Navy, women are seen to fly airplanes in the Air Force, and women are doing jobs in a large number of regiments in the Army. They perform extremely well and in many cases they are in just as dangerous positions as people might be in the infantry. I have no difficulty at all about how they perform those roles. The roles they have are a lot different in fighting terms from the way you are required to fight in the infantry. We need to study it very, very carefully, indeed, before we suggest that women should come into the infantry and whether the fighting effectiveness of the infantry would be affected. That is work that the Army are looking at at the moment.

  75. That feels slightly different from what you said in the newspaper report.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I think I said in the newspaper report that my bottom line was we should do nothing to our Armed Forces which diminishes our fighting effectiveness. As I say, it is a lot different from putting a woman on a ship to putting her in a trench. How you fight on board a ship, there is no comparison to how you are required to fight in a trench.

  76. For you it would be down to capability?
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I personally have no problems. I am completely unable to draw a distinction between what is more distasteful, being taken out in a fireball in some steel box on a ship by a missile than being buried in some muddy field, it is lost on me. I made my own personal decision about that when I supported the introduction of women into sea 10 or 12 years ago, whenever it was. I am afraid such distinction is lost on me. You are going to die horribly on a ship, you are going to die horribly in an aeroplane being blown out of the sky or in a muddy field somewhere.

Mr Gapes

  77. A supplementary on the submarine question, from your answer can I take it you have no objection to women serving on diesel, electric submarines.

  Chairman: You would be glad if we had any.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) As you say, we do not have any.

  78. I understand that, the question in principle is a question that I think we should get to, because clearly there are some Navies who do have them.
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) The Navies who do have them do not go to sea for two or three months and their management problem is different. The medical problem does not pertain to diesel submarines.

Chairman

  79. I can hear now, "Defence Chief calls for more diesel submarines".
  (Admiral Sir Michael Boyce) I did not say that, Chairman.


 
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